BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Custer of the West Series’

by David Limbaugh, author of The Resurrected Jesus: The Church in the New Testament

Turning the last page of a great book is one of those bittersweet life experiences.  

Well, I’ve just had that experience—and I’d like you to have it too. Harry Crocker is both my friend and maybe the funniest conservative novelist around, especially if you like your humor spiced with Old West action. Harry’s great creation is Marshal Armstrong Armstrong—only the character’s not really a marshal, and his name isn’t really Armstrong Armstrong.

He’s George Armstrong Custer, operating incognito since escaping near-certain death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The first book in the series, Armstrong, described how Custer miraculously survived the battle to become an undercover marshal. I recommend it highly.

The second book in the series, Armstrong Rides Again! is a book of conservative satire, involving skullduggery and civil war in a fictional Latin American country. That book looks more prescient every day, as the banana republic of the novel bears an uncanny resemblance to recent political developments in the United States. Maybe because I write about politics, I liked it even better than the first book.

The third and final book in the series is the newly released Armstrong and the Mexican Mystery. If anything, it is even more outlandish in its plot outline, as Armstrong teams up with his Indian scout Billy Jack, the journalist (and Civil War veteran) Ambrose Bierce, former Confederate officer Beauregard Gillette, and other great characters from the previous two books, including the Indian princess who rescued Custer from the Sioux. They join forces to investigate what turns out to be a vast criminal—and revolutionary—conspiracy operating from tunnels beneath the Mexican desert.

That might sound zany—and it is—but it is carried off with incredible panache. Parts of the book will have you sitting on the edge of your chair—you might think you’re reading Edgar Allan Poe—and other parts will have you laughing out loud. And still, other parts might cause you to pause and think, “Wait a second: there are some deep philosophical, political, and even theological arguments beneath all these witticisms.” And that’s because there are!

You can read Armstrong and the Mexican Mystery as an exciting, funny Western with science fiction elements. There are historical, cultural, and political references that might draw a chuckle or an appreciative nod. But the theme running behind all the jokes is, extraordinarily enough, the case for Christianity against secular humanism. The argument is so well woven into the plot, so much a natural part of the characters, that it presents itself simply as an inevitable clash of world views, leading to an actual clash of arms—and not everyone fighting on the Christian side is even a Christian (including Ambrose Bierce, who here, as in real life, was a sardonic skeptic).

It all builds to a thrilling climax—a war beneath the earth—and a concluding plot twist that I challenge any reader to predict beforehand.

So, here’s a question you might have: Can you start with this book, the third book in the series? Absolutely. Should you? Well, there’s no denying that the characters will appear even more fully rounded if you read Armstrong and the Mexican Mystery after reading Armstrong and Armstrong Rides Again! But the story of Armstrong and the Mexican Mystery and its characters can also stand alone.

Whichever book you start with, you should get started on the Armstrong books (the “Custer of the West” series, as the publisher calls it). If you do, don’t be surprised if you have a bittersweet feeling at the end that makes you say, “That was great! I can’t believe it’s over!” That means it’s time to go back and read them again!

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