A review of “Coach Prime” other recent books with a Western focus


“The Ridge,” by Peter Eichstaedt (Sunstone Press)

“The Ridge,” by Peter Eichstaedt (Sunstone Press)

Nearly 60 years ago, Reies Tijerina launched a raid on the Tierra Amarilla, N.M., courthouse that led to a mini-revolution over Hispanic land grants. Peter Eichstaedt’s “The Ridge” is a contemporary novel of a fight between local Tierra Amarilla land-rights activists and the government that is eerily reminiscent of that 1967 uprising.

Luke Jackman, a Santa Fe reporter, is writing about a group of Hispanic sheepherders when the group suddenly occupies a land-grant-turned-wilderness area run for the benefit of rich elk hunters.  Luke is swept up in the coverage, reporting for his newspaper while at the same time acting as unwilling go-between for the revolutionaries and the police. Sitting beside a campfire with armed guards, Luke interviews El Cuchillo (“The Knife”), the leader, who tells him about the land granted to Mexican settlers nearly 200 years earlier for their common use. Later, Luke meets with the head of a luxury hunting club, who explains why the government keeps the land as a wildlife preserve, where grazing is not permitted.

“The Ridge” is an enticing story.  What makes it so is not just the compelling plot but also the book’s accuracy. Characters are true to life, not cliches, and Eichstaedt’s descriptions of northern New Mexico are vivid. Luke’s reportorial accounts read like the real thing. Eichstaedt is spot-on with his depiction of small-town Hispanics, and the arrogant anti-media lines from the rancher who heads the club might have come out of the mouth of a Washington pol. “The Ridge” is a little gem.

“Coach Prime,” by Jean-Jacques Taylor (Mariner Books)

Is there anybody in Colorado who doesn’t know about Coach Prime, who was hired to revive the moribund University of Colorado Buffaloes?  Deion Sanders did wonders with the Jackson State University football team.  Now, the media-savvy Coach Prime is expected to do the same with the Buffs. In fact, he signed a five-year, $29 million contract.

“We’re coming to work, not to play.  We’re coming to kill, not to kick it.  Baby, I got to believe that we’re coming …,” he said at an introductory news conference.

“Jackson State was a mediocre program when Coach Prime arrived.  Colorado’s entire program needed to be razed.  No worries,” writes Jean-Jacque Taylor in this hagiographic biography of the famous coach.

“Coach Prime” is filled with the names of players and coaches at JSU.  It’s chock-full of glowing comments about the coach and details on the last JSU season, but it’s superficial when it comes to an in-depth look at Sanders.  There are some quirky details that make for enjoyable reading.  Coach Prime rarely says anything harsher than “durn,” and among his friends, he counts Snoop Dog and Lil Wayne.

But who cares?  After all, as Sanders says, “We’re here not to compete but to win.”

“While Idaho Slept,” by J. Reuben Appelman (Harper)

“While Idaho Slept,” by J. Reuben Appelman (Harper)

Americans were stunned by the deaths of four University of Idaho students on Nov. 12, 2022. Reporters descended on the town of Moscow, Idaho, seeking interviews with police, relatives of the dead students, teachers, friends, co-workers, anybody, in fact, who wanted to talk about the murders. They covered the deaths, the funerals, investigation and the anger of the parents and others when police did not find the killer right away. People in Moscow were so tired of being interviewed that some put signs on their doors telling reporters not to knock.

But in fact, the authorities were further along in identifying a suspect than the public knew.  Just two weeks after the murder, police were looking at Washington State University Ph.D. candidate Bryan Kohberger as the possible killer. On Dec. 30, he was arrested.

With all the coverage of the murders and their aftermath. It was inevitable that someone would hustle to cobble together books about the killings.  “While Idaho Slept” is a pastiche of information gleaned from stories, news reports and official reports about the murders of three women and one man.  This is an account of the killings and their aftermath, with interviews with associates of the victims.

There is little new here, although there are some obscure facts.  Kohberger once weighed nearly 300 pounds but shed the weight to be acceptable to popular high school classmates.  As Kohberger became trimmer, his personality changed.  “He wanted to be dominant physically and intellectually,” said a friend.  “He had to show that he was smarter and bigger.”

Kohlberger is jailed awaiting trial. The book doesn’t speculate about Kohberger’s future, but does draw together enough on Kohberger’s mental state to suggest that it could play a part in the defense strategy.

“A Light in the Dark,” by Kathy Kleiner Rubin (Chicago Review Press)

“A Light in the Dark,” by Kathy Kleiner Rubin (Chicago Review Press)

A generation before the Idaho killings, Americans were stunned by the vicious rapes and killings of some 30 girls and women by Ted Bundy.  Coloradans were especially fearful of the killer, because he had kidnapped and murdered a nurse vacationing in Aspen.  Bundy was arrested and charged with that murder, but he escaped from the jail in Glenwood Springs and continued his rampage, culminating in the vicious attacks on four Chi Omega sorority women in Florida. Two died.  The other two were left to deal with the mental and physical pain for the rest of their lives.

One of those survivors was Kathy Kleiner Rubin, whose savage beating sickened even hard-core policemen. She spent months undergoing painful reconstruction on her jaw, teeth and tongue, and even some 45 years later is not pain-free.

Kathy, who had nearly died from lupus as a child, determined not to let her experience with Bundy define her.  Happily married for many years (and a cancer survivor), Kathy has decided to tell the story she has kept bottled up.  Few of her friends knew she had been a Bundy victim, and even her son was surprised to learn the details of the horror that his mother faced that night in her sorority house bedroom.

The author makes clear that this is not just her story but that of the three-score girls and women who were also Bundy victims.  They are the ones who should be remembered, she writes, not Bundy.  She disputes the image of Bundy as a brilliant, charismatic man who duped naïve women.  Most of Bundy’s victims were attacked from behind or in their beds.  Bundy was an evil man, she contends, one who cried for his life on the way to the electric chair.

“I want to correct the wrongly recorded part of history,” she writes. “It’s time that Bundy’s legend diminishes and people stop thinking of him as charming and smart when he was neither. It’s time to stop considering what his life would have been if he hadn’t [gone] another way. The total waste of humanity was not Bundy’s death sentence.  The total waste of humanity,” she concludes, was the loss of his victims.

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