I have come to really like ol' Lewis B. Patten.
My first encounter with him was a short story I liked so much it led me to his novel ORPHANS OF COYOTE CREEK [reviewed HERE] and then several others. Though sometimes I wish his books were a bit longer [a compliment more than a complaint] I now see him as a fine western writer; he was truly gifted in the areas of characterization and observation, and he has-- so far-- never failed to keep this reader's attention with the tense and vivid stories he unravels.
So... I decided to try his Spur award winner RED SABBATH from 1968 [the award was from the Western Writers Of America for best western historical novel of that year.]
All in all, I am not sorry I checked it out, but I had-- unexpectedly-- some reservations when it came to calling it a classic.
First off, I should explain that the title refers to Sunday, June 25, 1876, which any student of western history will immediately recognize as the date of Custer's Last Stand. When Patten wrote his treatment, that whole event had already been "down to death" as they say-- in both fiction and non-fiction-- and to be honest, ol' Lew doesn't offer us much that is new in either perspective or viewpoint.
As far as perspective goes, I actually like Patten's. He is no hero-worshipper or military apologist, and Custer comes off as a vain, glory seeking nit-wit [which didn't bother this old "peacenik" Libertarian reviewer one bit!] Also, Patten is great at describing geography and logistics, not to mention human emotions... I must say I actually felt I was "right there" when the ravaged soldiers of Benteen's command struggled to re-group and simply survive while being pinned down without provisions or water. Patten never fails to paint a vivid picture of war and its difficulties.
I guess what left me somewhat disappointed was that Patten created a great fictional first-person narrator-- war-weary Army scout Miles Lorrette-- but really couldn't place him in a very suspenseful story, since we all know the basic outcome of this one. In fact the narrator's "back story," told through Miles' thoughts in flash-back as he stuggles to survive, was actually far more interesting to me than what was going on in the immediate story. Not only that, Lorrette's mere survival-- after personally killing about at least 20 Indians-- gave the story a Hollywood-macho, "RAMBO" kind of vibe that-- while I am quite sure it was unintentional-- compromised a lot of the otherwise realistic and generally "anti-war" story. [A far better example of this type of "military western"-- from an artistic point of view-- was one I also read in 2013, REMEMBER SANTIAGO, by Douglas C. Jones, about a lawyer and his Osage Indian sidekick in the Spanish American War.]
Still, I can see why his peers gave Patten the award back in '69. Those old word-slingers knew a well-written piece of historical fiction when they read one.
Me? I give it 3 stars out of 5. ***