LARRY MCMURTRY'S new novel is not just for those who love westerns. It is for those who enjoy both action and human compassion. "Streets of Laredo" is the sequel to McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "Lonesome Dove," which was made into a TV miniseries of the same name.
McMurtry does not pick up the story where he left off. Twenty years have passed since the Hat Creek outfit's big cattle drive, and the reader is now reunited with a few of the members of that drive. McMurtry begins "Streets of Laredo" with a brief description of the "Lonesome Dove" cattle drive and the characters who were involved. He then swiftly moves on to focus on a few of these characters and the ones new to the sequel.
Although not as heartening as its predecessor, "Streets of Laredo" is a great adventure about the last untamed Western frontier, McMurtry's specialty.
The story centers around Captain Woodrow Call, two decades after his "Lonesome Dove" days, living a secluded life and trying to keep up with his reputation for being the best bounty hunter in Texas. Call is joined by his old companero, Pea Eye Parker, on his journey to track and kill Joey Garza, a ruthless and brilliant young Mexican train robber.
The story unfolds as Garza leads Call and his men around in circles through the desert. Frustrated and skeptical about ever finding Garza, Call begins to doubt his own abilities as a tracker. To make matters worse, the group is slowed by Mox Mox, the man-burner, and the famous killer John Wesley Hardin.
While tracking Mox Mox, Call meets Lorena Parker, Pea Eye's wife, who is trying to find her husband and bring him safely home to their farm and five children. Lorena, once a whore and now a school teacher, saves Call's life after an encounter with Garza. One of McMurtry's trademarks, a deep understanding of feminine strength, is as present in this book as it was in two of his previous novels: "Terms of Endearment" and "Leaving Cheyenne."
Although the men hold center stage in "Streets of Laredo," the women are the heroines. Lorena and Maria, Garza's faithful mother, demonstrate the endurance and cunning that pull the men through the battles. They are committed to keeping their families together and far from danger, no matter what the consequences. There is also a strong bond and unspoken support among all the women.
Call's failure as the hero throughout the book is due to his preoccupation with growing old. Once one of the greatest rangers in the West, he now has to face challenges to his physical and mental endurance. As the chase intensifies, Call grows increasingly depressed and angry at himself for missing details he would not have let slip in his younger days.
Call's relationship with Teresa, Maria's blind daughter, is perhaps the most significant relationship in the novel. A man who has never allowed himself to be attached to anyone, Call becomes dependent on the young girl. This friendship renews his will to live and sense of self-worth.
Reading "Lonesome Dove" first would provide a better understanding of some of the sequel's main characters, especially Captain Call and Lorena Parker. The first novel is also a superb tale of the old West.
"Streets of Laredo," on the other hand, is not McMurtry's most uplifting work, but it is deeper than some of his previous books. More than just a bandit-chase, this story is about the value of loyalty to family and friends.