GARY JENNINGS – The Terrible Teague Bunch. W. W. Norton & Co., hardcover, 1975; trade paperback, 1980. Avon, paperback, 1982.

   Drop what you’re doing and go out and get this. I mean it. Waste no time. Don’t read another word here, don’t touch that mouse, just put down the piano and get this book. I’ll wait here till you get back.

   Okay, while everyone else is gone, I’ll fill you in on the back-story of how I came to read this. It’s long and not very interesting, but I’ll tell it anyway.

   Back in 1975 when we were a young married couple, my wife worked at a public library (and aren’t you glad we already have public libraries? Can you imagine trying to get an idea like that through Congress now?). Whenever I picked her up for lunch or dinner, I used to browse through the books a bit. Or more than a bit, which is how I saw this book, 43 years ago, but for some reason I never checked it out.

   Okay, so fast-forward four decades and odd-change, to last week, when my favorite used-book store went out of business and I went in to scarf up some bargains. At one point I sat down to take a break on the only chair they had there for public use, tucked into the section on Railroad books. I have no interest in Railroad books, but as I sat there, my eyes lighted on the easy-to-read spine of The Terrible Teague Bunch. I didn’t recognize the title, but I figured I might as well look at it till my legs quit hurting, and as soon as I read the jacket-flap, I recognized it as that book from long ago I never got around to.

   “Yes, fate or some mysterious force can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all.”                       — Detour, 1945

   So if everybody’s back now, I’ll go on to talk about The Terrible Teague Bunch. It’s a magnificent shaggy-dog-story of a Western about two cowboys, an oil well rigger and a Cajun swamp logger who decide to rob a train and spend most of the book just trying to get to the railroad with a meager herd of mangy cows.

   Along the way they have to deal with swindlers, swollen rivers, bellicose Baptists and a tornado, but that’s only part of the story. There’s also a thread about a woman who was captured by Comanches twenty years ago, trying to make her way in the world with a mixed-race daughter, and ….

    … and I’m not going to tell much about the rest, because it would spoil a good story. I will say that the tale is told with a wry, sharp sense of humor that had me laughing out loud in places, and it quickly becomes apparent that these guys are just too damn nice to rob a train. At which point I thought I could see the ending coming, but I was wrong.

   The last third of Teague turns grim, all the more so because the jokes keep coming, and from characters we really care about. This is writing of a high order, and more than that, it’s fun to read — a LOT of fun! Check it out now and thank me later.