By Sorrow’s River
Volume Three of the Berrybender Narratives, set in the 1830s, picks up McMurtry’s saga of the randy English lord’s multicultural entourage as it licks its wounds and treks from the Northern Great Plains toward Santa Fe. They meet raiding Indians, slave traders, gruesome deaths and maimings, some picturesque journalists in a balloon, three pregnancies and as many weddings, a drought, and a couple of bear cubs. The journey is rife with incident.
After dispatching William Drummond Stewart in Sin Killer, the fictional Berrybenders are joined again by historical mountain men and guides including Jean Baptiste (Pomp) Charbonneau (Sacagawea’s son), who contributes the haunting title. The rollicking adventure holds delights such as the constant complaining of Kit Carson contrasted with the collected, quiet rage of Jim Snow when roused to full “Sin Killer” power. And who could resist observations like “perhaps she’s so good because she’s never read a novel” and “democracy could ruin a good servant faster than gin”? But Lady Tasmin’s pursuit of Pomp becomes tiresome, as does the lady herself. And, as in the last novel, some readers might object to real people being used so fictitiously that they die many years before their time to serve McMurtry’s plot.