Sunday, August 31, 2008

Review: "A Tale Out of Luck: A Novel"

By Willie Nelson with Mike Blakely
Center Street, $21.99
reprinted from the San Antonio Express News, Sunday, August 31, 2008

No one disputes that Willie Nelson is a Texas icon, a rugged individualist and master of his own fate. So there should be little surprise that this music legend is blazing another trail, this time in the literary world.

Nelson enlisted acclaimed Texas singer/songwriter and novelist Mike Blakely to co-author his debut novel, a tale of the Old West
And yes, a movie is in the works.

In A Tale Out of Luck, the disappearance of retired Texas Ranger Hank Tomlinson’s prized thoroughbred mare in the middle of the night sets off a chain of events central to the plot of any good Western, involving murder, rustling, Indian fighting, saloons and saloon women. There are plenty of shootouts and cowboy music.

But the similarities to the standard Western novel stop there because Nelson and Blakely introduce us to a kaleidoscope of eccentric characters who keep the story moving at a fast clip.

Tomlinson’s sons, Jay Blue and Skeeter, must prove to their father that they are capable of finding the missing mare. They enlist the help of an albino escaped slave, Jubal Hayes, who has a reputation as an accomplished mustanger and horse tamer. Hayes’ bizarre appearance makes him a pariah around Luck, Texas. The Indians are terrified of him, believing that he is a ghost.
While Jay Blue, Skeeter and Jubal search for the missing mare, gunslingers from a rival ranch, the Double Horn, massacre an innocent band of Comanches.

A surviving warrior, Wolf, vows to avenge the murders:
"The warriors had donned headdresses made from the horns of bison, the heads of wolves or lions, the antlers of deer. Most wove eagle feathers into their black braids. The feathers, like those affixed to their shields, would flutter with the speed of their horses, spoiling the aim of their enemies’ weapons."

While Tomlinson is distracted by the search for his missing mare — and with fighting Indians — Max Cooper, a reporter with an ax to grind from the Austin Daily Statesman, rides into Luck bent on exposing a torrid secret from Tomlinson’s past.

In the frenzy of fighting the outraged Comanches, Tomlinson is forced to struggle with his personal demons.

Nelson and Blakely deliver an action-packed page-turner with far more substance than the average Western novel. While the mix of intrigue and suspense will keep readers on the trail, the enduring qualities of the characters are what set this novel apart.

Of course, A Tale Out of Luck was written with an eye for the big screen. After all, Nelson has the false-front Wild West town, also named Luck, that he built just outside of Austin. The set has been used for a variety of productions, including an array of television commercials and for the music video Beer for My Horses. With aspirations for adapting A Tale Out of Luck as a motion picture, Nelson and Blakely are working on a screenplay.

Copies of A Tale Out of Luck signed by Mike Blakely will be available at TexAmericana Fandango, Mike Blakely’s book and music festival set for Sept. 12-14 in Luckenbach.

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