LUCAS WEBB – Eli’s Road. Doubleday, hardcover, 1971. Reprint paperback: Popular Library, no date stated.


    I went back to the used book store to buy the copy of Green Ice they’ve had there for years, and got distracted once again. This time by a novel called Eli’s Road, by Lucas Webb.

    Considering the quality of this thing, I’m surprised Webb and his novel aren’t better known. It starts off a bit awkward, but soon gets the reader involved in a 1st person narrative spanning ante-bellum Kansas to 1880s Wyoming.

   Webb does a remarkable job of keeping his narrator believable from the time he writes as a callow teen-ager till he ends up in stoic middle-age, quite a feat of style, and the story: Bloody Kansas, rogue mountain men, orphan girls, pro-slavers, store-keepers, abolitionists, border ruffians, emigrants, freed slaves … and the mysterious Brother Frank.

   Seek it out.

[Editorial Comment]   I wish I had a copy of the paperback reprint to show you. The jacket of the hardcover edition, which perhaps sold to libraries and no one else, is rather plain and uninspiring, to say the least. The paperback is a lot more colorful and inviting, if you’re a fan of western sagas, and it has a quote from noted author Stephen Longstreet to boot:   “The Best Novel of the American West since The Big Sky.” No small praise.

     Lucas Webb is stated on the Web to be the pen name of Michael Burgess. Burgess is also well-noted as bibliographer R. Reginald (Cumulative Paperback Index, 1939-1959, among many others).

   But while Burgess did use Lucas Webb at least once as a pseudonym, an online bibliography for him does not include either Eli’s Road or one later novel under the Lucas Webb byline, a book called Stribling (Doubleday, 1973), about which I have found very little to date, only one quote:   “But there was no place to go to farm or settle; the farms were being deserted, the big combines tractoring out the shacks and the little fields…”