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Book Review - "Glorious" by Jeff Guinn

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews by clicking on the Books category in the right side bar.

9780399165412_p0_v2_s260x420Glorious, the first book in a trilogy of novels by Jeff Guinn, is a must read for fans who miss westerns.  There is an element of “Gunsmoke” with the moralistic sheriff, the ranch element of “The Virginian” and the family element of “The Big Valley.”  Readers should not expect a gun blazing story but rather a realistic understanding of what the West was like during that period with intricate character development.

The plot is focused on the life of Cash McLendon, the main character.  After being left on the streets of Saint Louis in 1872 he must survive with an instinct for self-preservation, being able to capitalize on opportunities presented.  Choosing the path of financial security over happiness he betrays Gabrielle, the woman he loves, and becomes the heir apparent to industrial mogul Rupert Douglas. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes and he is forced to flee to Glorious, Arizona.  He is so self absorbed he does not realize that he is out of place in the western frontier where he cannot shoot, fight, and ride a horse. This town’s occupants also include Gabrielle and her dad who left Saint Louis to stop the despicable gossip.  Besides trying to win back Gabrielle’s love Cash becomes committed to the townspeople’s aspirations and desires. As with most western plots Cash and the townspeople must battle the rich powerful rancher, Colin MacPherson, who wants to become the sole owner of all the shops and businesses.

Guinn stated to, “Conditions in that region were very extreme and hard.  Anyone who survived out there in one way or another was a hero, both men and women.  What was written in this book reflects what was going on all over the frontier. That is why I included the quote, ‘The simplest conveniences in civilized places were complicated in Glorious.’ Saint Louis was the line of de-embarkation with civilization to the East of it and the primitive frontier to the West. The individual townspeople have to battle the rich and powerful whether back East or in the West. Shady business practices, and powerful businesses try to crush the small businessman. Someone tries to gain the upper hand by making all the money at the expense of the individual who is trying to achieve the American dream.  Cash tries to escape it in Saint Louis only to find it happening again in Glorious.”

The compelling characters greatly enhance the plot.  The honest sheriff, Joe Saint, who is also in love with Gabrielle, creates a love triangle central to the narrative.  There is also the endearing bar owner/madam who offers both liquor and whores to the gang of prospectors who have descended on the town in hopes of striking silver; as well as the hotel owner, a blacksmith, brutish cowboys in the employ of the powerful rancher, and Bob Pugh, owner of the lone livery stable, expecting to make his fortune renting mules to silver prospectors.

He also wanted to make sure frontier characters were depicted accurately, “Cash is the antithesis of Matt Dillon.  He is not the perfect hero who can out shoot, out fight, and is honest to a fault.  He is flawed in the beginning of the book: selfish, impulsive, and uncaring.  Hopefully throughout the book he grows and becomes a better person.  I wrote Gabrielle as an independent woman, brave, smart, tough with a lot of common sense.  What happens in the relationship with Cash will be her decision. In fact, Cash comes to Glorious thinking she will take him back, not realizing that she has made a life of her own. I did not want to write a woman protagonist who is one dimensional, frightened, and has to be rescued.  That is definitely not what a frontier woman was like because in many ways they were tougher than men.”

What makes the story even more believable is the description of the prejudices of the town.  Through the character’s eyes the reader understands what happened to the Chinese since racial prejudice was prevalent in the frontier.  They had to sit in the back of any meetings and social gatherings if they were allowed to attend at all. They were always observers, but never participants. A main character, Sydney Chau, an American born Chinese woman becomes a natural healer, and serves as the town doctor.  Her family came to work on the railroad and when it was finished ended up growing vegetables and doing laundry for the town residents, necessary services no one else wanted to provide. A powerful quote, “A white man danced with a Chinese woman and the world didn’t come to an end.  It will help everyone realize that the Chinese are human beings too.”

Glorious is a must read for those longing for the return of the western.  It is a riveting and realistic tale of what frontier life was like in the early 1870s.  The story has all the elements of life, love, hope and ambition in the American West.