Monday, December 3, 2018

Noteworthy Reads: THE QUESTIONER by Andrew Vachss

THE QUESTIONER is Andrew Vachss's first work of fiction in too long.
But it turns out to be worth the wait.
A novelette written in the scalpel-sharp, no-word-wasted prose style that has become one of the author's trademarks, it introduces a nameless protagonist known only by the description of what he does. For a price, he finds out the most deeply hidden truths and secrets – and he does so not by means of torture or coercion, but rather merely by talking, asking questions, listening, and responding in ways that gradually, deftly draws out the information he is seeking. He can't be fooled or deterred. He senses the truth and, more importantly, he senses how to manipulate every precise detail of mood, environment, and his choice of words until what he is seeking is revealed ... What he then does with that information, who the Questioner passes it on to, can impact decisions and actions of global significance.
As usual in any work by Vachss, the “fiction” is only a veneer, a device to open readers' eyes about real-world abuses and injustices that may not be pleasant to face, yet NEED to be.
So read THE QUESTIONER for the prose and the power of the story. Then I'd encourage you to do a little homework about some of the things touched upon in the narrative (ethnic medical experiments, maybe a little history about the country of Estonia, as a couple of examples) as added food for thought.

As a further encouragement, I would also suggest you consider a purchase of this work via the Amazon Smile program whereby a portion of the purchase price (at no additional cost to the purchaser) goes toward a charity of the buyer's choosing. In view of Andrew's life's work in the area of child protection, a good choice for this would be an organization he co-founded and is closely associated with: The Legislative Institute for Child Protection.
You can learn more about it at this link: Legislative Institute for Child Protection
To sign up for the Amazon Smile program, use this link: https://smile.amazon.com/ch/81-1811456

I strongly recommend THE QUESTIONER and all of the foregoing.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Interview: John A. Curley (author of BONDS)

John Curley, author of the acclaimed new crime mystery BONDS, has the distinction of being a licensed private investigator with over three decades of experience. This gives the powerful writing skills so evident in this debut novel an added ring of authenticity often lacking in the genre. A lifelong resident of New York City (“Staten Island born and raised”, as he puts it), he also paints a vivid picture of the city and its workings at various levels.
Choosing to pursue investigative work rather than college, even though he was a child prodigy who read at a highly advanced level barely into grade school, John now is president of two agencies – J Curley Investigative and Protective Services LLC and J Curley and Associates LLC, a consulting company. John is also proficient in martial arts, having begun studying them in 1981 and then teaching in 1985. Married, having helped raise his niece and nephew, he is passionately devoted to protecting the young and vulnerable. He is a strong advocate for the Legislative Drafting Institute for Child Protection and a friend and follower of Andrew Vachss. Like Vachss, whose writing he openly admits to having an influence on his own work, John seeks to use his fiction to shine a light on the horrible abuses of children and the resulting impact on our society, and therefore the critical need to curb that trend.
John was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule for a long phone conversation and then the following interview. I thank him for his time and hope that readers come away knowing a bit more about the man behind the byline and from there seek out said byline and the terrific writing it will lead them to.


WD: I know you grew up under some rather tough conditions when your father disappeared via mysterious circumstances and it fell to your mother to not only raise you and your brothers on her own but to also take over and run the family business. Will you please provide some further details on that period in your life?

JC: Sure. First off, my mother did an amazing job. Like most kids I didn’t realize the sacrifices she made and still does for her kids. Long story short there was a silver heist at Luftansa Air that was portrayed inthr movie “Goodfellas”. It was never known for sure whether my father was involved or just his partner, but he left work to come home 3 days before Christmas in 1980 and was never seen again. His car was found 3 days later in the basement parking lot of the Sheraton Hotel on 1&9 North going into Newark airport. There are different theories about what happened but I believe when you drive on the highway into the airport you’re driving over him. My mom took over his business and threw his partners out, the people that are likely to have killed him. It often hits me that I am now 20 years older than he was when he disappeared—it was yesterday and forever ago at the same time. My mom and my grandmother raised us and, considering the hardships, we were very fortunate.

WD: You took up martial arts in your early teens and continue to stay quite involved in it yet today. Was there a particular teacher, or sensei, who influenced or instilled this long-standing devotion in you?

JC: More than one but the main teachers I have that have the most impact are George Smith and Anthony Dasaro. That is a spectacular combination, Smitty is maybe the toughest guy on the planet, even at 80 he is a force to be reckoned with and he instilled things in us like honor, the strong protect the weak etc. I actually worked with him and often think of writing about the work we did, but I’m waiting for the statutes to run. (Kidding, maybe). While Smitty taught me how to survive and the way I move is similar (not as good) to him, Anthony taught me appreciation for the art and is proof incarnate of the importance of technique. Being there at that time and place was a happy and very beneficial accident.

WD: I know that, in the performance of your investigations, you've run into some physical confrontations. I expect the martial arts training came in handy on such occasions. Are there any particular instances, without naming names, you'd care to share with readers?

JC: I have lost count of the number of violent encounters there have been because of work. I will share this, the first physical confrontation in “Bonds” happened just about that way, although it happened for a different reason.

WD: You told me an amusing tale about your very first day as an investigative trainee, when you were sent out on your own to serve some papers on an individual. Please share with readers how that went.

JC: Well I stumbled into P.I. work. At the time I was boxing and kickboxing and one of my sparring partners worked for a P.I. named Charlie Kahaly and my first day was spent getting lost in Long Island, a guy taking a swing at me when I served him with papers, and then having a car accident on the way back. I walked into Charlie’s office the end of the day and quit. He called me a few days later and asked me to stick it out, I’d had a bad day and wisely suggested that I at least keep it for the income. I’ve been doing it ever since.

WD: As mentioned above, you read voraciously at a very early age, including the complete works of Tolkein when still quite young. From there, I know that you continue to have an interest in dark fantasy as well as the type of contemporary crime fiction you have ventured into as a writer yourself. Can you track that progression for us ... from Tolkein on through to the current works of Robert B. Parker and Andrew Vachss, two writers you openly admit to having an influence ton your own work. What else came in between? What other writers – past or present – made a particular impact on you?

JC: Our gym teacher Walter Hertman read the Hobbit to us in the first grade and I got every book by Tolkien available. Then there was the Shannara books by Terry Brooks. I found Stephen King and Robert B. Parker in a used books store when I was a kid. Robert McCammon and Dean Koontz (“Boy’s Life” is perhaps the best book I have ever read and “Watchers” by Koontz is superb) in Walden’s Books. In the 80’s when I taught martial arts regularly a student introduced me to Andrew Vachss. Today readers are fortunate there are many great authors and mentors with you Wayne, at the top of the list. Seth Bailey, Rich Prosch, Will Graham, D Dion, so many others I could go on for pages but the biggest influence on me has been Andrew. Were it not for him I wouldn’t be writing or promoting child protection as I do.

WD: At what point did you begin to feel the urge to one day do some writing yourself? As stated in the intro, you've said that you want to use your writing ot help bring attention to the abuse of the young and vulnerable – was that always a part of wanting to write, or did it figure in more gradually as your investigative work opened your eyes to the problem?

JC: I wrote in the 90’s, and I did a horror novel “Emissary”. A cousin that worked in a publishing house loved it and was going to have it published but long story short she had a stroke (and recovered, thank God) but she lost the only copy. I stopped writing then. I started a couple of years ago after interacting with Andrew. Work and personal experience combined with the manner in which Andrew articulates the problems all converged at once.

WD: As a former “working” author myself – that is, someone who had a full-time job in the real world and had to fit in my writing on a catch-as-catch-can basis – I know how hard it is to find time for writing yet meet other job/family obligations. I was pretty erratic about it, but I have a hunch you may be more disciplined. How about it? How do you manage your writing time against those other obligations?

JC: It’s easy for me only because I have the whole story in my head and just need time to write it. Writing is unlike any other activity for me though. I need to be mentally awake to do it. You can work, work out, hang out, do whatever if you’re half-awake. But not writing. I manage to find the time, fortunately, and I am usually working on multiple things at once.

WD: To add realism to your work, I know that you often use true incidents – always with permission from those involved and with names changed – in your writing. Also, in BONDS, you take readers on a sort of tour of several bars and restaurants. I suspect these were also based on real places – but with the actual names altered, or kept intact in these instances? (As a non-New Yorker, I couldn't tell – I just know that some of the dishes you described made me damn hungry!)

JC: Well, the main goals are giving people what I hope is a good read and a look into a world they may not (and they should be thankful if they don’t) know, but is all around us. I also do not like the idea most people have that Staten Island is comprised only of reality TV and Jersey shore personas. It’s still a beautiful place and the parks, stores and restaurants I write about with a few exceptions are real. That part I hope people get a chance to see for themselves.

WD: Your current work-in-progress, VENOM, does not feature private eye Jonathan Creed as introduced in BONDS. I know, however, that you are a fan of series characters (Burke, Spenser, etc.) so is it reasonable to expect (hope!) that Creed will be making another appearance in the future? (Consider this a blatant plea for the answer to that to be positive.)

JC: If Creed survives he will likely be back. I know he has more to say and I could probably make that promise/barter (prequels can happen also) if I knew Joe Hannibal would be around again soon

WD: I suppose a natural extension to the foregoing question, since you and he are both private investigators, etc., is: How much of you is in the character of Creed? (Coffee preferably in a ceramic cup, for one thing, am I right?)

JC: A lot of people have asked if I’m him. I’m not, but we share a lot of things, love of food, good cigars, interest in astronomy, respect for the military and public servants but I would likely react a little different than he in many of the situations, there’s some of me in there. We have a similar sense of humor.

WD: Your upcoming work, VENOM – care to comment on that to any extent? Perhaps give readers a bit of a preview for what to expect?

JC: I consider “Bonds” to be a faithful entry into crime fiction. “Venom” strays a bit and blends horror into the story. Almost all the characters are broken in some way so, to me, it’s more true to life. My temperament is much closer to Eddie’s in “Venom” than Creed in “Bonds.”

WD: As mentioned in the intro, in addition to your investigative work and your writing, you are a strong advocate for the Legislative Drafting Institute for Child Protection and also the Staten Island Council for Animal Welfare. Would you care to take this opportunity to enlighten readers a bit about these organizations as far as their purpose and why you are so supportive?

JC: Sure. SICAW is a long running group of great people, that help find dogs and cats homes on Staten Island. The LDICP is a weapon. The idea of it comes from the natural evolution of Andrew’s work. A team of experts that draft specific legislation to target child predators and keep them away from children for good. It is a weapon that will help promote widespread change, if people are smart enough to use it.

WD: John, I want to thank you for granting this interview. You know how impressed I am with your work – BONDS, certainly, as well as some of the additional stories and story segments you have shared with me. I hope you get the strong readership following that you deserve. Before closing, if there's anything I forgot to ask that you'd like to comment on and/or think might be of interest to readers, please do so now. Again, thanks for your time.

JC: Thank you Wayne, it is my privilege. I do have “Reprisals” a short story series with a different set of characters being published in ACES Magazine, by Amy Augustine, a local New York magazine; and I am speaking with a few of the detective fiction magazines about that as well, including Garry at Conflict Manager Magazine. We have a group of people interested in turning the short story series “Reprisals” into a television show and perhaps “Venom” into a movie. I am very optimistic about that. Thank you for the interview, they were some very in-depth questions.


Monday, October 15, 2018

Noteworthy Reads: BONDS by John A. Curley

In this debut novel from author Curley we are introduced to Jonathan Creed, an exciting new addition to the ranks of fictional hardboiled private eyes. Curley's raw, impassioned prose is given the added distinction of coming from someone who is himself a licensed private investigator. The authenticity this brings is an added treat to what is already a complex, well crafted crime mystery. The characters you will meet in BONDS, starting with Creed and then including friend and foe alike, are all multi-layered and fascinating (sometimes in decidedly unpleasant ways), as is Curley's presentation of New York City. The tale, as already mentioned, is complex and compelling, its thrills and twists mixed with emotion and romance and some nice touches of wisecracking humor.
You're going to like BONDS. A lot. And you're going to want to see more of Creed and the John Curley byline.
Strongly recommended.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Interview: Richrd Prosch (author of BACK MASK)

I have written in these pages a number of times about the works of Richard Prosch. Until recently he has written mostly in the Western genre—his stories and novellas featuring the adventures of John Coburn, the Peregrine; his Holt County series featuring deputy marshal Whit Branham; and his delightful turn-of-the-century YA tales featuring inquisitive Jo Harper and her pal Frog. His short story “The Scalper” won a prestigious Spur Award from the Western Writers of America.
Like most writers, however—and in spite of admitting he maintains an “itch” to do more Westerns—Richard also seeks to flex his writing muscles and expand into other genres now and then. Toward this end, he has done work in horror, science fiction, and contemporary crime.
Most recently, Richard has launched a PI-like series featuring Dan Spalding, a former investigator for the Missouri Highway Patrol who nowadays runs a used record store in touristy Ozark City (think Branson, MO). Naturally, Spalding's background and his knack for attracting trouble, keeps getting him involved in “cases” where he needs to call on his old skills and a growing cast of colorful secondary characters to help set things right. So far Dan has appeared in the short story “Spalding's Groove”, the novellas ANSWER DEATH, FLIP SIDE, and the just-released BACK MASK.
So what about the man behind these tales of the Old West and modern-day mayhem? In conjunction with the release of BACK MASK, I got Richard to sit for a lengthy, enjoyable phone conversation and then agree to answer some questions about him, his life, and his writing.
Here goes:

DUNDEE: Your formative years, up until you went off to college, were spent on a farm in northeast Nebraska. I know that, to a large extent, part of your heart still resides in Nebraska and you have used it as the setting for many of your stories, particularly the Westerns. Will you please comment further on that—your growing-up years, what impact/influence, if any, it had on your writing? Did you have writing aspirations back then? If so, did you get any encouragement from parents, teachers, friends?

PROSCH: I logged a great many hours under the wide open sky with not a lot to think about except the stories I would make up. So the environment, the landscape, contributed a lot to my imagination. I can’t say my family paid much attention to my writing, but I had a fifth grade teacher who did. I wrote a vampire story where blood “billowed out from the victim’s neck like scarlet ribbons.” Mrs. Neuharth wrote in the margin, “Gross! But I love it! You could be a writer someday!” With that positive feedback, I was hooked. I’ve often given Mrs. Neuharth credit, and I will here again. I wouldn’t be doing this without her.

DUNDEE: In college, you met your lovely wife Gina. (Congrats, by the way, on just recently celebrating your 30th year of marriage!) I believe you were studying Graphic Art, with an English minor. Judging by the critical role Gina now plays in your current writing and self-publishing career—cover design, print layout, and soon to be co-author—it seems obvious that you certainly get support there for your writing. The two of you also are home-schooling your son Wyatt, who is gaining local and perhaps national prominence in the world of figure skating. The three of you have a very busy yet very close, enviable family dynamic. Can you expand more on that, please—your family/working relationships, the schedule balancing that must be required, etc.

PROSCH: Gina’s answer would be “we work our butts off,” which is more or less true. She’s being funny, but it’s no joke. And by work, she means we put in the time. It’s that simple, and that hard. All the successful people—I mean truly successful--I’ve ever known have that in common. They put in the time. Whether it’s at the keyboard, the musical instrument or the personal relationship. Early on, we found ways as a family to double-up on the time we spent together. For example, we wouldn’t be able to homeschool without a home office.

DUNDEE: Growing up, your father was an avid reader of science fiction and so you also read a lot in that genre. Your grandfather, you told me, read a lot of paperback Westerns. I don't recall you saying whether or not you read many of those. But in your writing career to date, you've done very little in the way of science fiction yet, as detailed in the introduction, quite a lot in the Western field. Most writers tend to write, at least in the beginning, what they were fans of reading. Why do you suppose that wasn't the case with you?

PROSCH: I think westerns offered a fresh landscape to explore. Also, I started writing westerns with more enthusiasm after Wyatt was born. I wanted to get him grounded in his family’s Nebraska history, and our own Wyoming experience. As we explored the real-life west, the stories just naturally developed. That said, I loved westerns on TV growing up—The Rifleman in particular.

DUNDEE: Who were some of your favorite authors growing up? Are there current authors you follow regularly and/or whose work you find particularly appealing?

PROSCH: Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein—those guys eventually gave way to John D. MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, Steve Frazee, and others. The list goes on. And there are writers I used to like that I can’t look at now. Vonnegut is one. And some that I judged too harshly. Even now though, I would have to put Ellison and Bradbury at the pinnacle—for their flat out passion for the craft.

DUNDEE: Your Westerns tend not to fall so much into the “shoot-em-up” variety. While there certainly are some bad hombres and a fair amount of violence—especially in the Peregrine stories, inasmuch as Coburn is a renowned gunman—the action is not overly graphic and it usually happens for a reason and comes with consequences. The characters in your stories, good and bad alike, often come across as people just doing their jobs (even if those jobs sometimes fall on the wrong side of the law) in order to try and get by in a hard land during a hard time ... Simple, common folk, in other words, as opposed to the larger-than-life, over-the-top kinds of heroes and villains often found in the genre. How deliberate is that on your part? Or is it merely a by-product of the stories that come to your mind?

PROSCH: It’s absolutely deliberate. I like stories about everyday life and how, without much warning, a domino falls over and things go on from there. My heroes have always been the unassuming people who—without fanfare or notice—stood up and started putting things back to rights.

DUNDEE: Dan Spalding is an immediately engaging character in a distinct setting surrounded by colorful secondary characters. He seems to have appeared fully realized in your initial story “Spalding's Groove”. Given his training and instincts, it seems perfectly logical for him to get involved in the kind of matters does, yet you cleverly avoid the stereotypical trappings of a straightforward PI set-up. Again, how calculated was this? What was the genesis for Spalding?

PROSCH: Gina says Spalding is my alter ego. Maybe he’s somebody who I might like to be if I had a second run at life. Every day I’m inspired by friends in the law-enforcement community, the EMS guys, the first responders, the firefighters—the people who make a real difference and pave the way for the rest of us. But there’s no way I could stand the bureaucracy, and neither can Dan. He needs to run his own ship, his own way, and right there he’s at odds with half the world. I’ve had some experience with that too.

DUNDEE: Records and the music industry—current and old—play a big part in the Spalding books. Are you a pretty thorough records/music nut in real life, or do you have to do a lot of research for the facts and observations these stories are built around?

PROSCH: My mom had this fantastic record collection that I cut my teeth on, and the passion grew from there. I used to record songs from the radio on my portable cassette player, and I was a faithful reader of Song Hits and Creem all through school. A friend once turned me on to jazz and heavy metal and classic country music—all in one summer—and challenged me to write for Rolling Stone magazine when I graduated. I’ve lost track of him now, but when I write the Spalding stories, I think of my friend and my mom and hope I’ve somehow done them proud.

DUNDEE: I know that you follow and support the work of Andrew Vachss, both his writing and his life's work of protecting and fighting for the rights of the vulnerable and abused in our society. I know how strongly your personal feelings are in this area and now a theme of protecting/aiding the vulnerable seems to be running through the Spalding books. Care to comment further on this?

PROSCH: Yeah, I don’t think that was planned as much as it developed naturally from some experiences in my own childhood. Watching my son and his friends deal with the culture we now live in really brought home those memories and sense of responsibility we all should have. I mean, it’s a shame that so many people spend so much time kvetching about issues that absolutely don’t matter. Television and sports and petty political beefs come to mind. Meanwhile they’re out to lunch on child abuse, neglect, abandonment, trafficking—all the vile things going on around them every day. The next Spalding book, STAGE FRIGHT, will deal with some of that in a direct way.

DUNDEE: You, like me, seem to have fully embraced the eBook/self-publishing movement and you have received wide acclaim for your work. What do you see for the future of the business? And what can readers expect, in the future, from Richard Prosch?

PROSCH: I think the Indie movement will continue to grow and improve. It will change, as all things do, and some folks will drop out. For me it’s a chance to share a story more quickly and move on to additional ideas.

DUNDEE: It's always a pleasure talking with you, Rich. I really appreciate your time and cooperation for this interview. I think readers will enjoy it and will come away knowing a little more about Richard Prosch and his work. In closing, if there's anything I failed to ask about that you would like to comment on, please feel free to do so now. And thanks again.

PROSCH: I’ve been posting free stories on my blog this summer, and that will continue indefinitely with a crime story on the first Tuesday of the month and a western two weeks later. It’s a fun way to revisit some work that might’ve gotten lost and share something with a new reader without asking them to part with any cash up front. I’ve picked up some new readers that way and come up with new story ideas too. So be sure to stop past www.RichardProsch.com every few weeks.
I also want to let you know how much I appreciate the interview and your kind words of encouragement, Wayne. Writing is a terrific endeavor and one of the best parts is the friendships you make along the way. Thanks for a fun interview!

For readers already familiar with Richrd's work, be sure not to miss the just-released BACK MASK, now available in eBook and print through Amazon. You can catch up with all of Richard's work via his Amazon page, his blog, or on Facebook. I urge you to do so, you'll be in for some fine reading.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Noteworthy Reads: FLIP SIDE (a Dan Spalding mystery) by Richard Prosch

This is the second novella-length outing to feature Dan Spalding, former Missouri Highway Patrol Investigator now turned used record store proprietor. Old habits and instincts are hard to break, however, which means Dan has a knack for still getting involved in matters considerably more dangerous that those usually found in stacks of old vinyl 

Building on this premise, author Prosch firmly establishes that the fine kick-off to the series (ANSWER DEATH) was no fluke and that Spalding is a character readers will want to continue seeing more of. Not only is Spalding himself very engaging, but so is the cast of recurring characters who also inhabit his world within touristy Ozark City. Add in the the author's distinctly evocative writing style and wrap it all around a clever murder mystery featuring unrequited love, betrayal, revenge, and even a dab of Dixie Mafia favor-trading – and you've got an entertaining, very satisfying reading experience. 

Strongly recommended.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

My Take: THE MEG (2018, starring Jason Statham)

An increasingly popular way for reviewers to critique movies these days, especially those aimed at being big summer blockbusters, is to concentrate first on whether the film is going to “earn out” as well as expected against their budgets (often outrageously high due to more and more dependency on CGI special effects). After that comes an examination of the movie itself -- how good it is, how close it came to doing what it set out to do, how entertaining it is or isn't. (And if the money-making potential isn't there, then the reviews tend to be more negative [though such an admission/claim is never openly made]).
Seems like a sort of ass-backwards approach to me. I say, review the damn movie and let the box office do what it may – and not be adversely affected by poor reviews (or vice versa).
 
Okay, that little rant aside, let me get to THE MEG – which I enjoyed the heck out of, no matter what its budget (though I suspect it was pretty hefty due to the special effects). The latter did not overwhelm the film, however. They were necessary to the story and they were well done. Period. But at the core of the story, amidst all the undersea and on-the-sea action involved in fighting the giant prehistoric terror from the deep, there are people relating to one another in various and interesting ways. There is humor, lots of it stemming from the kind of banter that happens within a group of people who work together and face stress together, there is a bit of romance, some guilt and blame passed back and forth, some heroics and betrayal ... and all the while there is the menace of the megaladon shark, risen from the depths and angry and hungry as hell.
 
Jason Statham turns in another solid job as a slightly flawed action hero, and even gets a chance to flex his acting chops a bit. (Calm down, I said “a bit” - I'm not calling him the next deNiro [as if anybody'd want to be anymore] or Olivier or anything like that.) A Chinese actress named Li Bingbing at first comes across as merely a pretty scientist type (like we saw dozens of back in all those 1950s horror/sci-fi flicks) but then progresses to become a very appealing female lead, in contrast to other more flamboyant actresses in the cast. The rest of the cast in general is quite good, including a little 8-yr-old charmer named Shuya Cai, as Li Bingbing's daughter, who steals every scene she's in (and whose presence in the film's storyline is fine and natural, as opposed to “the little girl in peril” stupidly injected into the most recent, highly disappointing JURASSIC WORLD entry).
 
All in all, if you're looking for a well done, balls-out, high-energy summer popcorn flick, THE MEG – in my humble opinion – delivers the goods.
Strongly recommended.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

Another Look: THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN (1979, starring Robert Redford)

Yeah, I know – this movie also stars Jane Fonda. So if you're among those who hate Fonda and will never watch anything she's in, then that's your right and so go ahead and skip this too. All I'll say is that, in this case, you're cheating yourself of a pretty darn movie. I'll add that I myself share few if any of Fonda's views, especially her antics during the Vietnam War years, but am able to separate that from enjoying some of the movies she's been in.

Okay. That said, moving on to THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN:
This is, very simply, the story of a cowboy (a modern-day one) who has lost his way via fame and booze and manages to find his way back with the help of a twelve million dollar horse who has been drawn into a similar situation.
 
Robert Redford is the cowboy, Sonny Steele, a 5-time All-Around rodeo champ who these days, too bent and beat up to continue competing, serves as the “face” for a top-selling cereal product that is part of a big bucks business conglomerate on the brink of a very important merger to grow even bigger. The horse is Rising Star, a thoroughbred racing champion, now owned by the same outfit and serving as the symbol for their future expansion.
Both Sonny and Rising Star are in Las Vegas as part of a promotional extravaganza that will culminate in the finalizing of the merger. Upon examining Star, however, in preparation for riding him during an on-stage production planned as a highlight of the promotion, Sonny discovers the horse is doped to the gills and even has an injured leg that is not being splinted properly because it wouldn't “look good”. When he tries to bring this to the attention of the head honcho of the company, he is rudely blown off. And when no one else will listen to him either, the cowboy decides to take matters into his own hands.
At the height of the big stage show, astride Rising Star and all decked out in strings of electric lights fed off a battery pack, Sonny rides off the stage, out through the casino crowd and onto the Vegas Strip, then gallops away into the Nevada desert.
 
From there it's a game of cat-and-mouse. Sonny and Star on the run -- trying to keep from being discovered as they work their way toward a remote location where Sonny plans to set the horse free after he's purged the drugs from his system and healed his leg – and all the forces of the law and big money influence trying to intercept and stop them.
Only a savvy TV newswoman named Hallie (Fonda) manages to figure out what Sonny has in mind and manages to chase him down. Hearing his side of things, Hallie convinces Sonny to let her record what he has to say so she can get it played on the air and present to the public that he's more than just a crazy, drunken horse thief. A (somewhat illogical) romance blossoms between the two and, from there, Hallie sticks with Sonny to help him try to free Rising Star. It helps that her tape of what Sonny had to say starts to sway the public and the business conglomerate that owns the horse has to go into spin mode to try and convince everybody that they've only wanted what's best for Rising Star all along.
 
This is Redford's movie pretty much all the way. He's perfect as the sincere but rather dim (maybe from being dumped on his head too many times) cowpoke trying to recapture “the best part of himself”. Fonda is on hand mainly for the romance bit and to serve as a cypher to get Sonny's words heard. There are a number of good turns from the supporting cast, too – John Saxon, Wilford Brimley, Valerie Perrine. But Willie Nelson, in his acting debut and providing some key songs for the soundtrack, damn near steals the whole show with one immortal line. After Sonny has run off and Willie (playing his best pal) is left behind, somebody asks him what he is going to do. To which he replies: “Me? I guess I'll find me one of those Keno girls who knows how to suck the chrome off a trailer hitch ... and just kick back for a while.”

Ah, yes. My heroes have always been cowboys.
This is not a movie I'd stand in line around the block to see. But it's pretty good. A little different, enjoyable, well done. I liked it when I saw it at the theater almost forty years ago, I still did when I re-watched it on cable recently. Check it out if you get the chance, I think you might, too.