Chronicling Texas’ Hill Country

Hill Country Chronicles
By Clay Coppedge
The History Press (2010, $19.99)

Texas’ Hill Country covers about 25 counties in the central part of the state, including Travis County, home to Austin. It’s a region as thick with legends and characters as it is with Ashe junipers, better known as cedars to those who live here.

The region, its legends and characters, and even the cedars get covered in Clay Coppedge’s Hill Country Chronicles. Coppedge, a journalist and freelance writer, has put together a collection of essays that tell the story of this rugged and sometimes forbidding land, an area pivotal to Texas’ history.

Coppedge is a storyteller at heart, and some of the best pieces in the collection are those in which he tells the stories of the region’s characters, such as outlaw Johnny Ringo. If the name rings a bell, that’s because Ringo is associated with the Clanton Gang and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Ariz. Although Ringo gained notoriety as an outlaw, some sources claim he never fired a shot in Tombstone.

Ringo did fire a shot or two, as Coppedge writes, while making a stay in Burnet, Texas, where he was arrested Christmas Day for firing a shot across the city square. Texas’ Hill Country was also where Ringo probably earned his reputation as an outlaw during the Hoodoo War, a bloody feud over cattle between recent German settlers and their American-born neighbors.

Ringo, Coppedge writes, shot and killed Jim Cheyney, a resident of the area, after Cheyney had invited Ringo and his partner Bill Williams in for breakfast.

Coppedge also delves into Texas heroes such as Jim Bowie, telling the story of how Bowie may have come into possession of his namesake knife. “A good bit of evidence suggests that the real Bowie knife of legend and lore was designed and made in Arkansas blacksmith named Thomas Black . . . . Black’s design was long and heavy and was distinguished by an evil little upturn at its tip and scooped top blade.”

Coppedge’s stories range far and wide through the region. He writes about its people, its places — Luckenbach,  for instance, the blink of a town made famous by Waylon, Willie and the boys — and its critters: from armadillos and unappreciated mules to the state dinosaur, the Pleurocoelus. And he does it often with dry humor and insight, which makes the book worth a read.


Review of China Mieville’s The City & The City

The City & The CityThe City & The City by China Miéville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

China Mieville’s Hugo award-winning The City & The City poses as a noirish murder mystery set in two fictional Eastern European cities, Beszel and Ul Quoma.

It starts out, as most mysteries do, with a dead body, a woman brutally murdered and dumped in a Beszel skate park. Assigned to the case is Inspector Tyador Borlu of Beszel’s Extreme Crime Squad.

His investigation is complicated by the nature of the two cities—Beszel and Ul Quoma go beyond being neighboring, though somewhat antagonistic cities, they exist in the same space. The murder victim, an American student, it turns out was murdered in Ul Quoma.

Though the cities are crosshatched, their citizens do not coexist; under threat of severe penalties administered by an Orwellian organization known only as Breach, the two cities’ citizens must refrain from interacting in every way imaginable: they practice “unseeing” each other; each city is treated as a separate entity, having its own airports, its own communications.

To complete his investigation, Borlu must get permission to enter Ul Quoma, and can only do so as an advisor to the Ul Quoman detective Qussim Dhatt. The two get caught in a strange web that may or may not involve a third city Orciny that also shares the same space Beszel and Ul Quoma, and catches the attention of the all-seeing Breach.

Mieville’s novel is intriguing, in particular the idea of two cities sharing the same space, though their citizens are forbiden to interact.
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