Sunday, July 14, 2002
In "Sin Killer," Larry McMurtry hurtles into the first of a planned tetralogy of the Great Plains, circa 1832, called "The Berrybender Narratives."
The Berrybenders are a noisy, bickering brood of English aristocrats traveling the Missouri River with an entourage of servants, guides and natives, making their way to Yellowstone aboard a luxury paddleboat. They will stay on the Missouri for this installment, but McMurtry promises we will see them travel the Yellowstone, Rio Grande and Brazos rivers before the series is complete.
The motive for this voyage appears to be nothing more profound than the spoiled Lord Albany Berrybender's desire to hunt something he hasn't already hunted and killed back home.
Which makes Lord Berrybender, his drunken wife, Lady Constance Berrybender, and his imperious, conniving mistress, Venetia Kennet, singularly hateful characters.
They are certainly not alone. McMurtry has packed the cast with an assortment of misfit, miscreant and maladjusted beings.
"Sin Killer" ultimately is too weighed down with them in its wild, expansive tale of adversity, warring natives, really bad weather, atrocities and kidnappings.
The pace is so frenetic you wonder if McMurtry is being slyly satiric, or has just gotten out of control. There are no fewer than eight Berrybenders; 15 servants, a polyglot entourage from France, Spain, Germany and Poland; a character based on American painter George Catlin; 17 Indians from the Sioux, Mandan and Sans Arc tribes; the title character, Jim Snow, known as The Raven Brave or Sin Killer; and a smattering of second-tier characters who compete noisily for our attention.