Review

The Tonto Woman and Other Western Stories

by Elmore Leonard



Before Elmore Leonard was writing some of the best crime fiction in
America, he wrote westerns. Some might argue that he has never
stopped writing westerns, as even his crime fiction contains all
the elements. What cannot be argued is that Leonard is one of the
best at what he does.

His new collection of of nineteen short stories --- THE TONTO WOMAN
AND OTHER WESTERN STORIES --- is a good introduction to Leonard's
style. He is a true literary craftsman who chooses his words
carefully and creates a fantastic mood by doing so. He writes
tightly and deletes all unnecessary words. While this leaves a lot
to the imagination of the reader, he provides just enough detail to
complete images. It makes his work interesting and fun. It is truly
difficult to put down a Leonard novel until the last page.

Leonard proves his mastery of the short format with his first
story, "The Tonto Woman."  In a mere fifteen pages he
weaves a tale of a woman scorned by white society, by her Mojave
markings. These are tattoo marking on her cheeks and chin that the
Indians gave her. Since Indians aren't looked kindly upon in the
West, she is banished by her husband to a small plot of land on the
outskirts of her spouses' property. Enter Ruben Vega, a cattle
thief who has come to steal her husband's herd. They quickly fall
for each other, which enrages her husband and leads to a fantastic
nail-biting climax. This title piece is a great story as we see
Elmore's craft of cutting a story down to its base elements shine
through. It also showcases another of his talents; his characters
are cool. Ruben Vega is a Clint Eastwood-like cowboy who is just
too cool for his own good. Part of the allure of a Leonard novel is
his ability to create characters that you want to be like.
Unflinching, self-confident and yes, cool.

"Only Good Ones" is another riveting story. Imagine a group of men
trying to bring in a fugitive, surrounding a hut where the criminal
might be hiding. None of the men in the posse are sure if they have
the right man, but their leader is certain of it. Well-crafted, it
will leave the reader second-guessing. Then there's "Saint with a
Six-Gun" which centers on a doomed man. Bobby Valdez has been
sentenced to death for his past history of killing. Since the town
is a bit scarce on law enforcement, they hire local Lyall Quinlan
to guard him at night. A fantastic mind game unfolds as Lyall
guards his prisoner, which leads up to an exciting
conclusion.

Take your pick. All the stories are great and showcase Elmore
Leonard's skill as a writer. For those veteran Leonard readers, it
is just another example of how he's the best in his genre. For
those new to his work, it is a simple and easy introduction. His
books are fun to read, a quality that at times is seriously lacking
from a literary diet. You owe it to yourself to read at least one
of Leonard's novels, and see why he is one of America's finest
authors.

Reviewed by Patrick E. Hughes on January 23, 2011

The Tonto Woman and Other Western Stories
by Elmore Leonard

  • Publication Date: September 8, 1998
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Delta
  • ISBN-10: 0385323875
  • ISBN-13: 9780385323871