(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Hondo is as fine a Western novel as L’Amour ever wrote. Because its title is synonymous with that of the 1953 Western film classic starring John Wayne, most readers of the novel probably see “the Duke” in their mind’s eye as the hero. In the novel, Hondo Lane is the quintessential good guy of the Old West—tall; taciturn; slow to anger but deadly when challenged; lightning fast with firearms, knives, or fists; instinctively pragmatic with women, children, and animals; and restlessly questing. At the same time, in the depths of his being, he is eager to settle down—though strictly on his own macho terms.

The arid Southwest dominates Hondo. Fighting with the Apaches, who call the harsh region home and who resist the encroachment of white “civilization,” begins and ends the story. The Apaches regard Hondo as their enemy, as he is a scout and dispatch rider for (real-life) General George Crook. Yet Hondo and Vittoro, the Apache chief, admire each other, as well-matched foes often do in L’Amour’s work. This fact, along with the cruel beauty of the desert and an assortment of soldiers (some brave, others bungling), creates the novel’s splendid tensions.

Escaping an Apache ambush, Hondo makes it with his fierce dog Sam to Angie Lowe’s rundown ranch, where he accepts her hospitality, doubts her when she loyally fibs that her worthless husband will soon return, does some heavy chores for her, and quickly...

(The entire section is 506 words.)