Friday, September 5, 2008

Valdez is Coming by Elmore Leonard

Valdez is Coming by Elmore Leonard
Fawcett Gold Medal T2918, Copyright 1970

" Just a little war, if he wants it," Valdez said.

As most Elmore Leonard fans know, the author started out writing short stories for Western magazines and his first novels were Westerns. In 1961, Elmore Leonard wrote a short story for Western Roundup called "Only Good Ones." Later in the decade, he was looking for an idea for a new novel and started searching over his past work. He took "Only Good Ones," made it the first chapter in his book and wrote the classic Western novel, "Valdez is Coming."

Powerful Frank Tanner and his men have a suspected Army deserter and his Apache wife trapped in a shack. Seems this deserter killed a friend of Tanner's six months earlier, and he wants him dead. It's turning into a big spectacle as humble Bob Valdez, a part-time constable from the Mexican side of town, arrives at the scene. Valdez goes down to talk the man into giving himself up. Tanner's men start firing and Valdez is forced to kill the man to protect himself. The man turns out not to be the one Tanner was after. Later, Valdez wants to take up a collection for the widowed Apache wife, but gets plenty of hostility from Frank Tanner on that idea. On one trip to see Tanner about the money, Valdez is ridiculed, humiliated, and left to wander and die bound to a wooden crosspole. But Valdez survives, and when he comes back he comes back as a different Bob Valdez. A Valdez from the past....

Valdez brought up the barrels of the Remington from his lap, and with the ten-bore explosion close in from of him, the Mexican came out of the saddle...His eyes were open and he had his left arm tight to his side.The shotgun charge had torn through his side at the waist.
Valdez smiled, "You ride to Mr. Tanner, all right? Tell him Valdez is coming. You hear what I said? Valdez is coming. But listen friend, I think you better go there quick."

Valdez enters Tanner's compound and kidnaps his woman. His plan is simple, "If I have something he wants, then maybe we make a trade. Give me the money and I give you your woman." Tanner and his men go after Valdez, but they find that isn't so easy. Valdez and the woman develop a respectful and sympathetic relationship during the ordeal, which Leonard gracefully presents to the reader. This isn't a story about vengeance, it's about correcting a wrong, a noble attempt to seek justice. Valdez is a modest man, who possesses a hidden courage to do what is right. This is a profound novel, with dynamic characters -some displaying a nature of extreme brutality, and others showing compassion and sensitivity. It's flawlessly written and has one of the best (and traditionally different) endings I read in any Western novel.
Truly an American Western Classic....

Elmore Leonard's Western novels should be revered and not forgotten. He wrote eight excellent ones and you can't go wrong reading any of them. Besides this novel, my other personal favorites are "Hombre" (the classic Apache-raised John Russell story) and "Forty Lashes Less One." (a Yuma prison story) It's been 30 years since Elmore Leonard wrote a Western novel, and that's too long. I hunger for another one. I hope he will reward us again.

"The Bounty Hunters" (1953)
"The Law at Randado" (1954)
"Escape from Five Shadows" (1956)
"Last Stand at Saber River" (1959)
"Hombre" (1961)
"Valdez is Coming" (1970)
"Forty Lashes Less One" (1972)
"Gunsights" (1979)


pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, August. I really need to read some of these early ones.

OlmanFeelyus said...


I always keep an eye out for these at used book stores, but they are never there. Do they get misfiled or are they just super rare?

David Cranmer said...

One of the greats! Thanks for reminding me...

Anonymous said...

It was upon a recommendation by George Pelecanos that I first read Valdez is Coming. Pelecanos, on his site, called it a near-perfect novel. After that kind of praise, I had to read it. And loved it. I read it in two days. Then I read Hombre, also in two days. Since then, I have found all the Leonard westerns. I'm going to review the first, The Bounty Hunters, in a few weeks on the Friday Forgotten Book collection.

On Leonard's lack of western writing, the closest he's come since then is the Carl Webster novels. Cuba Libre is a good one (featuring Webster's dad) but The Hot Kid is fantastic. Depression-era story complete with gangsters, good guys, and gun molls. And Webster's trademark phrase is quite memorable.

--Olman: They are not super rare. I've seen Valdez in plenty of used book stores. Just be sure to check both the western sections and the mystery section.

Anonymous said...

Great post!
The recent collection, The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard, is a must-have.

I have never seen that first cover for Valdez is Coming, and it's a powerful one.

John Hocking

August West said...

John is 100% right about "The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard" When they say complete, they mean it.It contains all of the author's Western short stories. I remember I found the hardcover edition at the discount rack of a local book store a couple of years ago. I paid $4.99 and felt guilty paying that price for the book. One of the best short short collections by any author....

Scott: Looking forward to "The Bounty Hunters" review. It's been so long since I read that one-My memory of it is quite foggy...


Anonymous said...

Olman they are not super rare. I usually find them in used store under Leonard's name in mystery which is no shock and some under Western.

I actually found my copy of Valdez same exact version for a quarter at my local library. Perfect condition also

OlmanFeelyus said...

Thanks, guys. I guess I've just been having some bad luck. Maybe they aren't as pervasive up here in Canada (though we certainly have some good used book shops). I'll keep hunting.

Anonymous said...

Ditto used book stores. I found a stack of early paperbacks years ago, something like 50 cents each. The short stories are reprinted from time to time. There is a great collection of shorts from Harper in stores now.

BTW, I am not a western fan. But these are exceptional stories.