The real gift of Joy V. Smith’s novel, “Detour Trail” may just be the lead character’s gender. One expects a western about settlers moving along the harsh terrain of the Oregon Trail to have a strong man as the protagonist; it is how it has been done in countless movies and books throughout the years. It is what we are programmed to receive, what we may even think of as true and right. Here though we are given the wonderful creation, Lorena Emerson, known as Lorrie. At the start of the novel she is part of a wagon train already en route. The uncle Lorrie began her trek with has been killed by a thief. Lorrie is left alone. The wagon master, one captain Mead, ostensibly acting in her best interest, tells Miss Emerson she cannot travel with them any longer. He advises her to sell her stock and abandon her journey, that it is too dangerous for her alone. Lorrie Emerson will have none of it: determined, willful, and clever, she will go on.
Miss Smith sets down “Detour Trail” with the use of very clean, tight prose. Its directness, it’s no nonsense approach, if you will, is appropriate to the setting and action. You get a tale told plainly, which allows the adventures Lorrie Emerson suffers and triumphs through to resonate all the more. This character, Lorena, is a kind, pure soul. She has what it takes to survive without losing herself. She is moral and decent. It is wonderful to have her placed before us, to ride with her as she succeeds. Consciously or not (and who can know what the writers intentions were) Joy Smith has given us a new feminist hero. Do not recoil at those words. Miss Smith has accomplished this without browbeating the reader. There is nothing didactic here. It is a great story laid out as a yarn. You will not feel overwhelmed by any message. You will simply be taken along on Lorrie Emerson’s journey and through that know women too can be heroes, even in the old west.
I do not wish to give away too much of the books ending, the place where it lands. I do feel I ought to tell you though that “Detour Trail” describes a world that it would be my pleasure to reside in. The place where Lorrie comes to be, the atmosphere of it, the specialness, is a kind that any warm heart might long for. There are people there it would be my pleasure to cross the road to say hello to. There are things brought to life that set one longing, simple, good things scented by Miss Smith’s descriptive powers. I would like to sit with Lorrie Emerson and her people and break bread with them. I am certain if I did I would find myself not wanting to leave. Settle in and read this book and I’m certain you will feel the same.