City of Rocks: A Western Story

Written by Michael Zimmer
Review by Ellen Keith

City of Rocks is built around a clever conceit: the interviews of Joseph Roper as part of the American Legends Collection, an offshoot of the Federal Writers Project. Roper is interviewed in 1938, when he is 76, about the events of 1879, when he was 17 and found himself tracking the McCandles gang. Roper is the only one to take action when his town of Coalville, Idaho, is terrorized by the gang. While the rest of the town cowers in a darkened restaurant, Roper takes off after Ian McCandles, who has shot his friend and employer, the sheriff, and kidnapped Lucy, one of the town prostitutes.

Roper’s recounting of his adventure, 59 years after the fact, serves to temper a 17-year-old’s boasting into a rueful, mature reflection on his younger self and his mistakes. For Roper does catch up with McCandles, captures him, and rescues Lucy and another prostitute. However, he allows the women to talk him into going after McCandles’ stash of gold instead of going back to Coalville to turn the outlaw in. His cataloging of every bruise, scrape, wound, and betrayal serves as a deterrent to any impressionable youngster who would find his tale exciting and his life desirable. I wish the American Legends Collection actually existed!