Three weeks ago today I went off on an impulse drive to Jerome, Arizona, and just after leaving that beautiful and very historic hillside city, I stopped in the small town of Clarkdale where I perused a couple of used bookstores. One of the treasures that I acquired while digging through the dusty stacks was a hardbound, second-edition of a book written by Zane Grey in 1930 entitled Robbers' Roost.
I have an interest in the early 1930's due, in large measure, to an independent writing project that has been consuming my spare time for the past couple of months. While not necessarily a fan of westerns, I reasoned that reading Robbers' Roost might give me some insight into popular literature of the times, as well as language and word usage.
Zane Grey wrote to entertain the common man, but he was no piker when it came to literary style. He could tell a good story in a manner that held the reader's attention, while not fearing to use big words and complicated sentences to describe the grandness of the American West. It was Grey's powers of description that elevated him well above the other prolific chronicler of the Old West, Louis L'Amour.
Robbers' Roost is the tale of Jim Wall, a drifter with a criminal past, who fell in with an outlaw, Hank Hayes, when he witnessed Hayes needlessly robbing a Mormon who had just openly cheated a young ferryman. Hayes led Jim Wall to the Star Ranch where he and his outlaw gang were employed by an Englishman rancher who had more cattle and money than he could manage. Hayes' outfit and another gang of outlaws, also employed at the Star Ranch, were both planning of relieving the Englishman of his cattle and his money.
The story began to get complicated when the Englishman, Mr. Herrick, detailed Jim to take the buggy and pick up his sister, Helen, who was arriving by stage in a town that was a full day's ride from the ranch. Jim successfully retrieved Helen Herrick from the stage stop and brought her to the Star Ranch. Jim, of course, managed to fall hopelessly in love with the beautiful Helen as they slowly made their way back to the ranch.
But Hank Hayes had plans of his own when it came to Miss Herrick. Hank succeeded in relieving Herrick of most of his cattle without the gentleman rancher being any the wiser. He then really stirred the kettle when he robbed Herrick at gunpoint and kidnapped Helen to hold her for ransom. The gang, with Helen in tow, made its way to a secret hideaway that Hayes had discovered during his earlier travels. They called the secluded spot "Robbers' Roost." Jim Wall, who was fleeing with the gang, had to work hard at maintaining his status as a fellow outlaw while keeping a close eye on Helen to insure that Hank did not have his way with her. Wall was also constantly on the lookout for a way to rescue the distressed damsel.
Soon the other outlaw gang found them and the bullets began to fly.
Robbers' Roost was penned by Zane Grey when he was at the height of his writing power. The story is gripping, and Grey's descriptions of the desolate, yet magnificent Utah landscape are every bit as vivid as if they had been captured by the paints of Frederick Remington. The author took me someplace I had never been and left me wanting to experience more. That, by my definition, is great literature - even if it was penned by a cowboy author who could really crank them out.