Redeye ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
The “Redeye” in Redeye is a dog. He belongs to a bounty hunter named Cobb Pittman. Cobb Pittman carries Redeye in a bag hanging from his saddle. Redeye has just one eye. The eye that he doesn’t have is red, making people think he’s some kind of a devil dog. He’s vicious when he needs to be, latching on to the nose with his teeth of any unfortunate animal that riles him. He can also latch on to the nose of a man if he wants to.
Redeye is set in Colorado in the 1890s, making it a “western.” There’s not much plot to speak of, mostly just a collection of quirky characters doing quirky things. In the small Colorado town of Mumford Rock, Billy Blankenship and P.J. Copeland are businessman and entrepreneurs. They have learned embalming in Denver, apparently in a very short time, and hope to open a mortuary parlor in the town of Mumford Rock. To show the dangers of a body that has not been embalmed, they arrange to have the body of a dead Chinaman “explode” at the train station. This will scare people, they believe, into viewing embalming as a necessity.
Near Mumford Rock are cliff dwellings that were occupied by Indians hundreds of years ago. The cliff dwellings are on a mesa, nearly inaccessible, so there are still Indian “artifacts” left behind. P.J. Copeland sees the commercial possibilities inherent in the artifacts. If he can mount an expedition that can bring back a lot of the artifacts, tourists will pay money to see them. Hold on a minute, though! The U.S. government already has plans for those artifacts. Wouldn’t you just know it?
P.J. Copeland and company have already brought back two mummies, one of a woman and one of a baby. His superannuated mother, Grandma Copeland, believes the baby mummy is one of her long-lost children and won’t part with it. Some of the more dimwitted of the bunch try to bring the woman mummy back to life by wiring an electrical charge to her heart (or the place where her heart would have been). It sets her on fire.
Star Copeland, niece of P.J. Copeland, is new to the West, having just come to Colorado from South Carolina after the death of her dear mama. She learns the ways of the West quickly enough and falls in love with a young, tubercular Englishman named Andrew Collier, who is in Colorado studying Indian culture. While cavorting with Andrew Collier, Star also fields an offer of marriage from an oft-married Mormon, Bishop Thorpe. (In the 1890s, the Mormons had to follow U.S. law on marriage, meaning one wife for each man.)
There’s a subplot in Redeye involving Mormons and the massacre of a wagon train of settlers from Arkansas that occurred in 1857, some thirty-five years earlier. A group of Mormons using Indian wiles attacked a wagon train of pioneers near Salt Lake City, killing all of them. Orders from Brigham Young, the Mormon leader, were to leave none of the settlers alive to tell what happened. One of the Mormons instrumental in the attack was a man named Calvin Boyle, who, all those years later, is living under an assumed named, Bishop Thorpe. (He’s the same Bishop Thorpe who proposes to Star Copeland.) It seems that the bounty hunter Cobb Pittman has been trailing Bishop Thorpe, unknown to anybody else, for years to make him pay for his part in the massacre.
In Redeye, Clyde Edgerton, one of my favorites writers, uses the literary technique used by William Faulkner to great effect in his novel As I Lay Dying, that of allowing each character to speak in his or her own voice. That makes for a fast-paced, entertaining, easy-to-read book. You can read this book without expending too much brain power and have fun while you’re doing it. What’s more fun than mummies?
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp