SACKETT’S LAND by Louis L’Amour
I remember being somewhat disappointed in reading Sackett’s Land back when I was younger. As I recalled, the action was a little slow and lean, and there was a lot of favorable circumstance for Barnabas Sackett instead of trouble. Oh, there was trouble, but he just seemed to get through it too easily.
Upon re-reading the book, though, I enjoyed it a lot more. Maybe it’s because 30 years have passed and I have a more developed sense of history, or maybe I knew what to expect while settling in. As most Western readers know, the Sackett family is one of the most famous families in the fictional Old West. Barnabas Sackett is there forebear, the man who brought the lineage to America.
The story starts out with a mix of good fortune and bad luck, which is a pretty good way to start a tale. Barnabas stumbles – literally – upon a fortune that will change his life forever, and he also makes a lifelong foe in Rupert Genester. Pursued by Genester’s ruffians, Barnabas and his new companion, Sakim – who seems to fit the bill as a Tinker, one of the staples of the Sackett series – head to London to start a trade business with hopes of getting to the New World so they can build an even bigger shipping company. These are lofty dreams and they come quick, which kept reminding me I was reading a novel.
L’Amour had an excellent ear for character. All of his books sound like the person who had those experiences was sitting right in front of you, recounting the tales in his or her own words. Barnabas Sackett’s voice comes through in these pages loud and clear. It’s a lyrical and knowledgeable voice, one that draws the willing reader in and reveals struggles and the pageantry of the New World.
Sackett’s Land could easily have been a Charles Dickens novel, although a much shorter version of one, because of all the sweeping action, the large cast of characters, and the transition from one setting to another. The book maybe be on the shorter side, about the length of L’Amour’s traditional Western novels and not near the doorstopper length of The Walking Drum, but the sense of the world is a great expanse that the author covers petty well.
In the end, I wish the book had been longer, the villains a little more developed, and the action telescoped so it didn’t happen quite so fast, but the story is one that summons up a lot of landscape and sense of wonder. I’ll be reading To The Far Blue Mountains next in the series, and it’s almost three times the length of this one.