It is 1887 and New Mexico is wracked by a drought unlike anyone can remember. It is a place where family is supposed to mean something and fidelity is ensured by a man’s handshake and his word.
When Tom Forrester learns that his access to the Pecos River has been cut off, he convinces foreman Shad Marone to send a little payback in the direction of the culprit, Jud Bowman, the son of his former partner. However, as is often the case, an act of revenge begets a cycle of violence beyond the control of anyone in town. Marone finds himself on the run across the lava fields of the Malpais with the sheriff and his posse close behind him. Half-Apache Jesus Lopez believes he’s the only person who can bring Shad Marone to justice, but he also has a personal stake in capturing Marone. Whether justice comes from the law of the New Mexico territory or from the Jornada del Muerto itself is anyone’s guess as the story unfolds.
The original story was written in the 1940s as one of L’Amour’s first and most highly-regarded works, and the treatment it’s given in this adaptation is worthy of its source. As the story unfolds following the murders, flashbacks of the events help drive the story forward as Marone flees through the desert and Lopez stays close on his trail. The relationship between the pursuer and the pursued, according to Beau L’Amour in the afterword, may well be the core of this tale of betrayal, murder, and the unwritten law of the American West.
Thomas Yeates’s black and white illustrations capture the rawness of the 19th century western territory. The story visually unfolds like a film from the early age of the cinema and feels right at home with a story conceived and written over 70 years ago. The gritty feel of the art matches that of the Jornada del Muerto where the chase reaches its climax.
Teachers or librarians looking to introduce the modern reader to an icon of western writing will have a perfect vehicle in this novel. The action and art will keep readers turning pages, though it is best suited for adults. Connoisseurs of L’Amour’s other work may also enjoy a fresh take on this classic.
Law of the Desert Born: a Graphic Novel
by Charles Santino, Katherine Nolan, Louis L’Amour
Art by Thomas Yeates
Publisher Age Rating: Adult