The western genre has a fairly large fan base and is widespread in both cinema and literature. It allows you to accommodate huge spaces for fantasy, where you can mix different genres from banal detective to mysticism with a pinch of horror. An interesting mixture at first glance, consisting of romance and a mystical detective, offers Maine Reed in his book “The Rider Without a Head”, but in practice the implementation was just awful.
Despite the fact that this work brought the author some success and fame, I found an explanation for this. It is worth noting that this is not the first novel written by Reed, his first works were destroyed by critics and he had to go through a thorny path of non-recognition of his work. Therefore, after this failure, he decides to go on a trip to America, the events of which partly formed the basis of the “Headless Rider”. And it would be better if Maine Reed diluted his “adventures” more with fictional, but brighter and more fascinating events in the book, because everything that does not concern the investigation of the origin of the rider is very mediocre and boring.
Then why was this book able to bring success to the author, if I speak so badly about it? It’s simple, she came out at the right time for her, namely in 1865, when the genre of westerns was quite popular, especially outside of America. In addition, the mystical genre of the book and some plot moves and tricks, which now seem so banal and obvious, that to use them now in the same form is simply inappropriate. Based on this, I believe that if this book was published now, it would hardly have won the same success and become one of the literary classics.
Speaking of the plot, it should be divided into several parts: a romantic part related to Louise Poindexter, the daughter of a former rich southern planter, and Maurice Gerald, a mustang (horse hunter), and part-time count; detective investigation of the murder and the origin of the headless rider; and the development of minor characters and events that take place in parallel with the main storyline.
The romantic part is written just disgustingly and there are a number of reasons for this. First, it arises from nothing and in an empty place, the so-called “love at first sight” in the literal sense. There are no preconditions or actions leading to this, here the main characters just saw each other and fell in love. After that, they are ready to roll the mountains for love, even though they know nothing about each other. This very weak love line undermines the power of motivation of all further actions of Maurice and Louise. But suddenly the book reveals the qualities of the heroes, because of which they are only more attached to each other? From Maurice’s side, yes, Louise’s, no. Maurice himself is quite charismatic, with high moral values, a man who is always ready to help anyone in trouble and is never the first to go to conflict. He also has quite a few skills that he acquired while living in the prairies and working as a Mustang, where he was a great success.
As for Louise, she simply has nothing but a beautiful face, it is not even clear whether she is a literate person, she does nothing in the household because there is a black servant for that. Of all its advantages, only archery is mentioned (which is needed for one plot moment) and a good ride on a mustang. Therefore, based on this, Maurice’s love for her seems very naive and boyish, especially when he has another girl in love with him, Isidore. And the motivation of this love against the background of Louise looks much better: Maurice saved Isidore from the Comanches. Taking into account all the above while reading the scenes of their love confessions and experiences, I was bored with disbelief in what was happening.
Turning to the plot line of the headless rider, it is worth noting that I have the impression of a complete misunderstanding by the author of the detective genre. Maine Reed managed to construct the narrative in such a way that it becomes completely clear who, why and why is almost in the middle of the book. But the mystical part is well done. However, in some places it seemed quite unfortunate when experienced fighters saw the horrors of war: mutilated and mutilated bodies of people, afraid of a corpse without a head on a horse, intimidating themselves with fictional scarecrows. While they just needed to jump up to the rider and remove the body with his head, which would greatly speed up the murder investigation. After revealing the main plot twist in the middle of the narrative, everything else seems to be a protracted plot that will not bring anything unusual or unexpected. Much of the investigation also consists of the saddest description of finding traces on prairie sands and things like that.
Again, who is the killer and why he did so also becomes clear in advance and is very boldly hinted at by one scene during the search, showing one of the main pieces of evidence against the villain. Despite all these flaws, everything could be saved by the final scene, where you could leave an unexpected turn and a rather gray ending, but the author used a cliché at the time and ruined everything completely.
Speaking of the other characters involved, there is nothing remarkable or interesting about them. There is only one thing that can be distinguished among all: the Stump hunter, as he generally stands out from everyone else both in his appearance and character. Another major disadvantage of the book is the author’s inability to write: there was a feeling that Reed considered readers idiots with short memories. Here he likes to talk about one event from the perspective of different people who are somehow involved in it. However, he makes a “mystery” of who the hero sees in the distance, galloping on horseback, when the reader literally five pages ago read about this very rider in the distance, and knows who he is. Reed also uses idiotic turns like “as the reader could already guess it was« “. BUT there is still one well-described scene in the work that I liked: the duel between Maurice and Colehaun. I did not find anything more memorable for myself.
I would strongly recommend passing this work, as I consider reading it a waste of time. All the disadvantages I described above had such a negative impression on the work, although I met people who liked it. “Headless Horseman” I would even include in the books, which are an example of how not to write. However, I do not deny that at the time of its publication it could have been quite a fascinating read compared to other works, especially for European countries. You can also add to the plus of the book an attempt to implement such a good mix of genres.