Review: Wild Country, Dean Ing, 1985.
The last novel in Ing’s Ted Quantrill trilogy is sort of a western.
Most of it is set in Texas on the border with Atlan Mexico with some brief excursions to Oregon (Ing lived in both Texas and Oregon) and Norman, Oklahoma. There are bar room fights, chases on hovercycles instead of with horses, a poor woman who doesn’t want to sell her spread to a rich landowner, and final showdown between two gunslingers.
And we have the old cliché of the gunfighter who may be running out of time as his reflexes slow, and he still faces men gunning for him.
The gunfighter is Ted Quantrill, now a deputy U.S. Marshall in the Wild Country. President Young’s administration ended after the events of the preceding book, Single Combat. Street, the leader of the resistance, is now Attorney General in the new administration though he mostly operates out of Alice, Texas. (Not, as I can tell you from visiting it, a major urban area.)
Being a deputy doesn’t pay that well, so Quantrill also works part time for Marrows, a former bull rider turned veterinarian. He tells Quantrill that one day he will get a “sign” that he’s not up to his marshall job just like Marrows got a sign when a bull mauled him.
And Sandy Grange isn’t going to marry her long-time sweetheart Ted until he quits being a marshall. Lufo aka Sabado steps out of his relationship with Quantrill figuring he owes Ted since it was Sabado that recruited him to be a forced government assassin.
And we’ve got a band of outlaws running drugs from Mexico into Reconstruction America. They have ties with Jur Garner, member of the rich Garner family that wants Sandy’s ranch. And Jur wants Sandy too.
The lead trafficker is Sorel, a formidable man with the reflexes of an international soccer star, intelligence, and trained in tradecraft by Cuban intelligence. He hates America and loves his rich lifestyle.
One of the three great gunfights in the book occurs in Oregon when Sorel meets with New Israelis from their L-5 colony and is presented with a complex scheme to curtail worldwide opium production to put pressure on the uppity Turks whom the Israelis lease land from for their launch facilities
It’s here Ing does a bit of paring on the cast of characters with Boren Mills from the previous novels. Mills did a “vesco” after the last book and joined the New Israelis. As Ing disdainfully says when Mills is killed, “Like many an intellectual before him, Mills assumed he needed no lethal hardware.”
But Ing’s plotting is very pixallated indeed in this novel.
Using a plot device he would later use in The Ransom of Black Stealth One and Spooker, there’s a mole, here working for Sorel in Street’s organization. His identity is revealed at the end, and Ing makes what could be cheap device work.
And there’s a bit of sexual kink here as in Ing’s Soft Targets and Spooker. Sandy and Ted play a hooker-and-John game, and Ing’s humor doesn’t quite work in it. Sorel is bisexual. Nothing, however, is as strange as Eve Simpson’s mad attempt to mate with Baal the boar in Single Combat.
And, speaking of Baal, a military officer from England visits Wild Land Safari, where Marrows works, and decides he wants to hunt Baal the old-fashioned way: lance and horse.
The showdown between Quantrill and Sorel occurs in the ruins of London during the Blitz – or at least the part of a new amusement park that recreates it. One part of the park is dedicated to the Old West and reminiscent of the Michael Crichton movie Westworld right down to android gunfighters. One is even based on Ted. (He did get royalties.)
But that’s not the end of strangeness. The final page of the book is titled “After Games” and has several short paragraphs. They are not so much epilogues to the characters’ lives as either notes for a never done sequel or an invitation to fanfic.
And, in this novel, we get both maps and engineering diagrams. The tech of this 2006 has holovision, microfiche maps in cars, and Sandy has finally revealed she has a working prototype of a matter synthesizer.
Finally, and I haven’t seen anybody else mention this, this novel ties in with the Ing short story “Malf” from 1976. Its narrator, Kevin Ames, is the man who races the injured Marianne (who worked with Sorel as did her corrupt judge father) to the hospital after Sorel leaves her for dead. It’s clearly Ames since we are told of his past experiences which match the plot of “Malf”, and we also get a passing reference to machines similar to the ones central to the plot of “Malf”.
Additional Thoughts (with Spoilers)
The tragic side of the code of honor is a theme running through this book. Mur Garner dies trying to stop Quantrill from arresting Jur in one of the other great combat scenes. He knows Jur is worthless, but he’s still his son.
And, in their showdown, Quantrill even feels sorry for the defeated Sorel because, all throughout the fight, he has been identifying with him, guessing his tactics because he imagines what he would do. Quantrill even offers the crippled Sorel a chance to surrender and says he’ll visit Sorel in prison, but the proud Sorel opts for suicide. (After Quantrill learns the extant of what Sorel has done at the end of the book, he decides he wouldn’t have visited him in prison.)
And, finally, there is the code of honor that makes Quantrill let Lufo escape after his identity as the mole San Antonio Rose is revealed.
Before he commits suicide, Sorel says he can’t give up his youth and freedom by going to jail. Quantrill is finally shown, in another example of Ing the moralist, he has matured. Youth, he tells Sorel, is always taken from us, and freedom is given away to those we love.
James Nicolls Review’s has a very different parallax on the trilogy.