Thursday, May 25, 2017

South California Purples -- Baron R. Birtcher

South California Purples is set in Oregon in 1973, at the time of Wounded Knee and not long after the sad events at Kent State.  Ty Dawson is the owner of a working cattle ranch in a mostly rural county, and he has no idea that the unrest that other parts of the country is experiencing is about to come to where he is.

It begins when several of his cattle are killed, seemingly exploded, and it escalates when a local activist begins a protest against the Bureau of Land Management's plan to round up and slaughter herds of wild horses.  Before long there's a tent city, a motorcycle gang is running wild, and Dawson finds himself appointed under-sheriff of the county.  It's an almost impossible situation, and then his daughter comes home from college and is clearly siding with the protesters.  

Things get out of hand.  One of Dawson's ranch workers is killed, and the motorcycle gang members behave barbarously.  The high sheriff is more of a hindrance than a help, as are other state and local law enforcement officials.

The final confrontation between Dawson, his ranch hands, and his family is violent in the extreme, and Dawson administers some of his own brand of justice, the kind that wouldn't be sanctioned by any court.

Reading this book I was reminded of the work of James Lee Burke.  Dawson is a lot like Dave Robicheaux, and Birtcher's writing is descriptive and poetic in the vein of Burke's.  Strong writing and a strong central character -- good stuff.

By the way, the title is supposed to refer to Dawson's cattle.  Maybe so, but I never saw a purple cow, and I never hope to see one.  Birtcher might be having us on a bit here.  The title is also the title of a song by the Chicago Transit Authority, now known simply as Chicago.  That might tell us more than purple cows.

By the way #2:  The book might be set in 1973, but it's still relevant today.  This isn't a political comment, just an observation of a coincidence.


Scott D. Parker said...

Like you, Bill, the first thing I thought of was the Chicago song. Perhaps, for Birtcher, it was cloudy every morning and the sun didn't never shine.

Rick Robinson said...

Me, too.