My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a classic, of course, and it might interest fans of the period. But it says here that Mr. Cooper veers uncomfortably close to the cartoonish when he is not flat-out ridiculous.
I confess that I was occasionally charmed by the scenery and buckskin-covered whatever. Having read a great deal about the time in which the book is set, I found more than a few things of incidental interest. But I won’t bother to detail my complaints; anyway, Mark Twain has already blazed the trail. He is particularly dead-on with this point: “14. Eschew surplusage.” Even in tense moments, Mr. Cooper’s characters are verbose to the point of preposterousness. If you had a nickel for every time a native character answers a question with another, longer question, you could afford to buy a whole set of books that will go down much easier.
Mr. Cooper is one of the few authors who provoked me nearly to chuck a book out of a subway car. My near-breaking point came during a conference late in the book between the famous protagonist, Hawkeye, his little British buddy, Duncan Heyward, and the chief Tamenund. The chief asks which one of them is La Longue Carabine, one of Hawkeye’s tediously numerous nicknames. Stubbornly, Hawkeye doesn’t answer right away, eventually explaining that since no one asked him if it was O.K. to give him such a nickname he did not feel obliged to answer. Never mind that it is the whole point of nicknames that they are bestowed by other people. Similar arrogance displayed by a city dweller, during a pause on the always-sun-dappled trail, would not go long without a wordy and snarky comment from Hawkeye himself.
Anyway, the point is that because Hawkeye does not initially answer to a nickname well known to him and his companions (and everyone else, for chrissake), the reader is subjected to a drawn-out tangent: first Hawkeye’s own haughty explanation of why he kept his mouth shut (including, “my gun is not a carbine, it’s a smoothbore”, and then a shooting contest between Heyward and Hawkeye designed to suss out which of them — a pale Englishman entirely new to the country or a well-bronzed woodsman — is the aforementioned Mr. Carabine. It goes without saying the contest is utterly devoid of suspense.
The reader is left to ask, What was all that for? I already knew Hawkeye could shoot, I knew that he had a long history with the indigenous tribes and I knew that he had a surplus of pride and peculiar notions. All I really know now is that I am five pages farther from the end of the book than I should have been.
No wonder Michael Mann rearranged the whole thing before he made his movie.