Friday, May 31, 2019

Forgotten Books: WILD TIMES by Brian Garfield (1979)

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a big honkin' fan of Brian Garfield. The Marshal Jeremy Six novels I've yapped about as Forgotten Books are my favorites, and those reviews recount my second trip through the series. I've also read and enjoyed dang near all of his other westerns (and there were a lot of them) plus Death Wish, Death Sentence and few other thrillers. But none of that prepared me for this epic titled Wild Times.

It's hard to even compare this book with his earlier efforts, but I'll try: If those earlier books were gourmet popcorn, Wild Times is a fat, juicy steak, with all the trimmings. 

Wild Times purports to be The True and Authentic Life of Col. Hugh Cardiff, though the pretence is only skin deep. An Afterword admits that the book's major characters, including Colonel Cardiff, are purely fictional. Still, if I didn't that, I'd have been googling the name to get the real skinny on the guy.

Cardiff's career has much in common with that of Buffalo Bill Cody, but he's clearly no stand-in for Buffalo Bill, because Bill makes one two appearances in the book also, and is frequently mentioned.

As the book begins, Cardiff is at the end of his career, relating a memoir to debunk all nonsense that's been written about him in dime novels and the newspapers. His goal in life, from a young age until his seventies, when the narration ends, is to be the world's best rifle shooter. In following that pursuit, he comes to the attention of dime novelist Bob Halburton, a fictional competitor to Ned Buntline, who first makes him famous with outrageous heroics, then takes him on tour in an Eastern stage-play, a year or so before Buntline does the same with Cody and Hickok.

After much more adventuring, bringing him into contact or near-contact with such folk as Al Sieber, Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, and several years in exile while married to an Apache, Cardiff returns to the public eye to launch the world's first Wild West Show (again before Buffalo Bill), which he keeps going for another thirty years.

All the while, there's a whole lot of history going on around him, and the book's 476 pages are brimming with authentic Western life and lore. It's a real feast. As I finished it (and it took me almost two weeks) I was tempted to read it again.

1 comment:

Cap'n Bob said...

I just ordered a Kindle copy. Your reputation as an arbiter of taste is on the line.