Author: Louis L’Amour

Published: 1963

Mood: If you and your bestie want to read a Western that perfectly captures the spirit of friendship without ever sacrificing action or excitement so you can talk about it over drinks.


Catlow checks all of the boxes for a great Western adventure. It takes up little of your time, and leaves you with a big grin on your face. It’s just about the best little cowboy novel you can get.


I can’t believe somebody ditched it at a thrift store for me to find. That person makes questionable life choices.


I’m a huge Louis L’Amour fan, and I’ve previously reviewed the 1971 movie version of Catlow. L’Amour books tend to make for great movies, and Catlow (the book) is no exception. But even if you’ve seen the movie and loved the characters you met on screen through Yul Brynner, Richard Crenna, and Leonard Nimoy, you NEED to read the book.


It’s not the same story. It’s even better.


photo of the '60s novel Catlow, with its original cover slightly creased


Catlow is the story of how cattleman Bijah Catlow, a former cattleman with a huge reputation and friends in all places, robbed $2M in government gold and silver from Mexico. Mostly. But you’re not mad at him.


Throughout his escapades this charming scamp is pursued and, occasionally, unintentionally, helped by the most unlikely person of all – his lawful good BFF since childhood, deputy marshal Ben Cowan.


Catlow and Cowan respect the hell out of each other, and there’s a super enjoyable bromace driving the story forward. They like women just fine, but they LOVE their ongoing game of cat and mouse. Cowan is the serious, observant one, and Catlow is the charismatic leader who makes you think maybe a little crime isn’t so bad.


It’s a little bit like if Point Break was a L’Amour Western, and holy shit can you imagine if Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves made a Western? Maybe one day our AI overlords will enable us to recast movies for fun.


Anyway. Despite all the environmental and strategic challenges of an epic manhunt, it always comes back to how Catlow and Cowan come through for each other in the end.


illustration of a fancy moustache


I used to think Louis L’Amour got better with age, and that his later novels, like Jubal Sackett, were his best work. But Catlow proves my theory wrong. I don’t know that there’s a more perfect example of how well L’Amour could weave a Western yarn than this book.


It’s got everything you want and more – action, adventure, a heist, danger, escapes, and hints of romance that don’t distract from the story because let’s face it, L’Amour wasn’t too great at writing women. And that’s fine; the relationship between Catlow and Ben Cowan is the theme.


But at the same time, the two supporting female roles in Catlow (the book) are significantly larger and more engaging than how they were rewritten for Catlow (the movie). The character who makes the smallest impression in the book is actually Miller, which is the opposite of Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal in the movie. Miller is more of a coward in the book, and you’re never really worried about him getting the drop on Catlow.


This book is rife with the evocative descriptions you expect from L’Amour, the man who supposedly walked every single inch of land he ever wrote about. L’Amour puts you right there in the dry, dusty, unforgiving landscape. The balance of descriptive content, dialogue, and action is on point. There’s never a time where you’re missing one element or the other; they’re tightly woven into a short, sharp story that’s impossible to put down.


Find yourself a copy of Catlow. It’s quick, easy reading that delivers a ton of entertainment in a tiny volume. These are the kinds of characters who stay with you long after the book is done. Catlow will go on your re-read shelf, for sure.