Friday, July 1, 2011

John Locke, the Jersey Shore of Western Writers

On a recent series of plane trips I decided to try out ebook author John Locke’s Emmett Love series.  John Locke is supposedly one of the most downloaded ebook authors, and his western series is apparently among the most downloaded western ebooks.  This is poor tidings for the genre.

The books are harmless enough, and so cheap that it is hard not to lay down 99 cents for some mindless entertainment.  The series is at two books so far, Follow the Stone and Don’t Poke the Bear.  They are pretty thinly written with nominally three dimensional characters.  Emmett Love, the narrator, is clearly a wish fulfillment Marty Stew, which works well in some series (like Dewey Lambdin’s nautical adventure books) but not as well here.  Each book has at least two characters who are mute, which is just the author’s way of cheating his way out of writing extra dialog.  It also reads like the author has done just enough research to get by, rather than just basing his books on old western television.  This, alas, is where my problem comes in.

The second book starts out in the opening days of the Civil War.  Emmett Love and the denizens of his little frontier town get into a short debate as to which side they are on.  Are they the North?  Are they the South?  Which side are you on if you are in the West?  It gave me a quick chuckle as it reminded me of when Larry McMurtry had a much better version of that exchange between Gus McRae and Pea-Eye Parker in Comanche Moon.  However, the humor quickly faded when I started to think about the setting for the novel- Kansas, 1861.  Any author writing about Kansas at that time must have at least heard about Bleeding Kansas, the low-level conflict between pro-slavery Border Roughians and anti-slavery Jayhawkers that lasted for most the 1850’s and killed nearly 100 people.  Everyone in Kansas knew what side they were on; no one had to ask.

It is bland, simple, poorly researched writing like this that gives ebooks a bad name.  Like bad reality television, it is easy to digest, barely engaging, requires little thought, and makes us intellectually poorer.


  1. Got to disagree with you here. Locke knows how to string a few sentences together and his style is easily read and very pacey. The books are fun and not intended to provide anything deeper than entertainment. And if books are intended to entertain then these deliver in spades.

  2. I always welcome dissenting opinions. I agree that Locke does write a zippy, fun book, and he certainly has sold a ton, but when I looked back on several hundred pages I couldn't feel like I benefited from the experience. Every reader is looking for something different, and there should be room for lots of tastes. Locke just isn't my flavor.