Author: Louis L'Amour
Copyright Date: 1987
Audio, e-book or foreign translation available? Yes, Audio, Kindle & Nook
Suitable for children? Teens and up, yes, particularly males.
I did not pick up the novel Last of the Breed thinking it would be for a SurvivalBlog review topic. Louis L'Amour is one of the authors I read as "mind candy", an easy read just for the fun of it. However, I quickly realized that this book is one of L'Amour's exceptional works and an excellent read for anyone who lives or is thinking of living in the American Redoubt.
Unlike most of Louis L'Amour's books, this novel is set in Siberia, and set in relatively modern times. There are airplanes and automobiles. Perhaps the best clue as to the date is the construction of the railroad in the Amur region which would put the time right about the late 1950s. This would help explain why certain technologies were not a factor in this novel.
Although there are no cowboys, horses or dusty saloons, there is an Indian. Major Joe Makatozi is part Cheyenne and Sioux Indian, and in the author's words "an unreconstructed savage." And while Siberia may be unfamiliar territory to many folks, it is deliberately compared to the American Redoubt, particularly the Snake River territory in Idaho. This is where Joe Mak grew up and where he developed the skill set which makes all the difference in this novel.
Joe Mak was raised in a home which would be the dream home of many preppers. Built by an ancestral Scotsman, the home was in an area without roads and entirely off grid. Trips to town were accomplished in avoidance of all roads. It would be regarded as a primitive home in the eyes of many, but it was excellent preparation for the circumstances with which Joe Mak had to contend.
Colonel Arkady Zamatev of the Russian army had a plan to advance his career by acquiring military intelligence for the USSR. His plan was to kidnap fairly low profile individuals who had knowledge of key, cutting edge foreign military and scientific technology. His first several captures went perfectly, and with the confidence of those successes he decided to pursue and capture Joe Makatozi, a pilot with knowledge of the developments of experimental aircraft. And indeed, Zamatev was successful in capturing Joe Mak and bringing him to the specially dedicated prison near Lake Baikal in Siberia. This prison was purpose built, and in fact, still under construction. Set in the midst of one of the harshest climates on earth, surrounded by ten foot tall electrified fences with machine gun towers every one hundred yards it was inconceivable that anyone would even think of trying to escape, yet Joe Mak did just that. Under cover of a brief electrical service interruption Joe Mak pole vaulted the fence and sprinted into the forest, setting into motion a manhunt involving competing political interests and a hostile natural environment.
It was initially thought that it would not be at all difficult to recapture Joe. In fact, it was considered that he would probably be eager to turn himself in if the cold didn't get him first. However, these were the thoughts of men who could not conceive of an individual of the type they were actually dealing with.
The one person who had a sense of what they were up against was a Yakut tracker by the name of Alekhin. The Yakut were Siberia's natives and compared fairly well to the American Indian. Alekhin was a legendary tracker, known for always finding his man, but also for always bringing him back dead. Zamatev made it clear that at least this time Alekhin's quarry had to come back alive and at least able to speak.
From a survival perspective things don't get much more bleak. Joe Makatozi is in a foreign country where he doesn't even speak the language. He is on his own in a deadly cold environment with nothing more than the clothes on his back. He has the army and a skilled tracker on his trail. And there is no one he can call on for help.
It must be admitted that Joe has to resort to theft at several points. Just to make it through the first week he steals a few cans of food, a sweatshirt and a knife. But these are all he needs to get himself into a position in which he can sustain himself. From there he was able to fashion himself a spear and a sling for hunting. Able to hunt he was then able to procure skins for warmth, and once able to kill an animal large enough he was able to obtain sinews for a bow string. Making a bow and knapping his own arrowheads he was able to kill at a distance and bring down even larger game. This allowed him to make his own moccasins to replace the boots he was wearing out. This also made him even harder to track.
Lacking knowledge of the area he was traveling posed a real challenge. It was very much his desire to avoid all human contact. This meant avoiding population centers and transportation corridors. Crossing rivers and mountain ranges posed a challenge. Eventually Joe managed to steal a map, but even then it was difficult to pinpoint precisely where he was. Much of the time he simply had to rely on his own knowledge of the general geography of the area.
One factor which Joe had in his favor is the fact that Siberia is a climate which tends to harbor only those who are of a self-sufficient nature. These folks tend to be inherently distrustful of the government. As a result, most of those who Joe did encounter were in no hurry to turn him in to the authorities, but rather were inclined to let him go on his way and let things work themselves out.
Eventually Joe even finds himself among others who are fugitives in one sense or another. Because Joe is a skillful hunter and can provide food for those who are otherwise on the verge of starvation his presence is tolerated in spite of the high profile search for him which is underway. In this setting Joe is able to learn some of the language and how best to proceed on his course. This situation does not last long, but it provides Joe with better shelter through some of the worst of the Siberian winter.
Overall, this novel covers most of a year. Joe's rate of travel is necessarily slow, and there are times when he must remain in shelter for extended periods of time. His demeanor throughout the ordeal ranges the gamut from being at the point of laying down to die all the way to hunting those who hunt him. At no point is this a slow read. Louis L'Amour keeps the reader on the edge of their seat all the way through this one. There is simply no point in which Joe's life is not in immediate danger. Be it from man, nature or self, Joe's future is constantly in jeopardy.
I will not spoil the ending as to do so would seriously detract from the crafting of this novel, and it is an excellently crafted work. This book was published towards the end of Louis L'Amour's career, and it is one of his most refined. The novel opens with a preview of a scene which will take place later in the story. No clues are given as to how much later, and thus a sense of mystery is added to the story. That mystery is very well resolved by the end and in a manner which a warrior will find quite satisfactory. Those of a tender heart and a peace loving nature may not enjoy this novel, but a fighter will relate to it quite well.
This novel does not go to the level of detail to teach the skills required for survival, but it does give the reader a sense of what they must know in order to keep themselves alive in this setting. It should also be noted that the level of physical fitness required is that of a near olympic level decathlete. A substantial part of Joe's success is the fact that his enemies cannot conceive of his level of skill and his degree of physical ability. It is not that average person who can manage this, the author makes that clear. It should also be noted that a modern manhunt would involve modern technologies which would make Joe's flight much more difficult. I still found it a great read and an instructive one.