By Louis L’Amour
Though better known for his Westerns, Louis L’Amour was a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. A true product of the pulps, he was ready to write any kind of story, so long as it involved heroic men in a tight situation. In Fair Blows the Wind he takes on the era of Drake, Shakespeare, and Elizabeth. Unfortunately, the result is a bit uneven.
The novel begins with a strong premise. Tatton Chantry is cast away on the unexplored shores of North America. Much to his shock, he is not alone. A small group of Spanish travelers are also shipwrecked on the coast of what will someday be the Carolinas. It’s a bit of a stretch, but ok. Just as Chantry is working his way into the intrigues surrounding the Spanish castaways (involving a beautiful Inca princess and a special treasure) with yet another castaway (why am I reminded of Solomon Shaft from The Pyrates?) Chantry takes the reader on an extended flashback through pretty much all of Chantry’s teenage years and adulthood.
Alas, I was only slightly more enlightened about Chantry antecedents when I was done than when I started. L’Amour has a marked impulse to allude to things that are critical to the plot, but are too secret to be spoken aloud. Alas, this does little for reader comprehension. Chantry belongs to an un-named Irish family that has been outlawed. As L’Amour reminds us again and again, Chantry is not his real name, his own is so famous that all of Britain would know it. So why bother mentioning it, just be sure it’s REAL important.
The story is a bit of a picaresque as Chantry is by turns a member of a Travelling clan, an apprentice to a Highland sword-master, an associate of a secret society, a Grub Street hack, and a soldier-of-fortune. One gets the feeling that Chantry’s career parallels a bit of L’Amour’s life as well. Ultimately, Chantry pits himself against an Elizabethan Godfather who has made himself the crime-boss of 16th century London.
While normally I decry the tendency of novels to be overlong and full of padding, Fair Blows the Wind has enough material for a much longer novel. L’Amour seems almost to have been striving for an epic that encapsulates the time. But rather than following Drake’s epic voyages of piracy and exploration or the cataclysmic confrontation between radical-Catholic Spain and the revolutionary-Protestant Netherlands, L’Amour has his hero wander about the English countryside a lot.
Fair Blows the Wind is frankly, a big disappointment. There are decent moments, but they are not up to the level I expected. I had high hopes for a swashbuckling tale of Elizabethan rogues and rapscallions. Alas, the goods arrived damaged.