A Time for Heroes

A TIME FOR HEROES combines elements drawn from several genres of pulp fiction to lighthearted comic effect. The story centers on a prepubescent Arizona boy who for a series of convoluted reasons winds up in the care of his crotchety old granduncle, a hermit inventor who is convinced he has developed a perpetual motion machine. Other, more unsavory Tucson residents believe that the secretive duo is hiding something a bit more practical: illegal liquor or a fortune in silver stolen from a rebel leader of the Mexican civil war. When a local procurer starts nosing around the old man’s homestead, uncle and nephew take flight into the desert, their precious energy device in tow.

Soon on their trail are at least a half-dozen search parties--from horse-mounted cowboys to railroad detectives to a unit of General Patton’s motorized armor brigade -- none of them with a clear idea of exactly what they are after, or why. Only a likable pilot-bootlegger and the boy’s charming, newspaper-reporter aunt have a vague grasp of the circumstances, and it is up to them to work their way through the competing factions and bring the self-made fugitives back safely.

The strengths of this complicated, somewhat contrived tale are Bryant’s ability to portray accurately a variety of American archetypes and his sheer gusto for crackerjack storytelling. No elegant stylist, Bryant tends to repeat points unnecessarily and wastes a lot of words on distracting, unilluminating details. These failings, however, do not take much away from a story that manages to be both rip-roaringly exciting and self-consciously satirical at the same time. The book also includes a number of nice sketches by Bryant of Southwest terrain and early twentieth century tools, vehicles, and equipment.