When I was young, my father owned the Zane Grey collection, and I read many volumes. I found some of them bland and sanitized. It’s exciting to discover that the author was heavily censored, and for the first time to read an uncensored Cabin Gulch. Driven by character and action, the story of bandit Jack Kells, who kidnaps a young woman named Joan who loves the wild youth Jim Cleve, becomes a love triangle. Head of the border legion, Kells is an amiable gentleman yet a cold-blooded killer who can barely control his dark passions. Subjected to horror, Joan calls on sheer willpower to keep him at bay.
In Kells, Grey has created a complex villain, but some of the characterization is cartoonish. Rival bandit leader Gulden is described as a “gorilla,” and Cleve’s face is many shades of white. But the inner workings of Joan are subtle and true. Surrounded by men at their most beastly, she takes on camouflage as a bandit girl.
The landscape is a dusty sepia, relieved by the “glow of fire logs, the cold pitiless stars and mustering shadows” under canyon walls. When the gang descends on a gold-mining camp at Alder Creek, Joan is confined to a room from which she witnesses greed, scheming and murder. The salty dialog recalls radio plays. “The clatter of hoofs on the stony road told of a horse swiftly approaching.” From Joan’s point of view, gold is the destroyer. The adventure roars to a gripping climax.