It’s a lament as old as the conservative movement: We’re great at turning out dull tomes on public policy, political philosophy, and political economy—but where are the great conservative movies and novels that will actually entertain and motivate people?
Well, if you haven’t read the “Custer of the West” series—a trilogy that includes Armstrong, Armstrong Rides Again!, and the latest, just published in time for Christmas, Armstrong and the Mexican Mystery—you’re missing out.
No, you don’t have to like Westerns to like these books. And while they involve, as their main character, George Armstrong Custer, a survivor of his eponymous last stand, now working incognito as a sort of independent secret agent in the West, you don’t have to know anything about (or even like) the historical Custer.
Yes, the books play off Western themes, and the author, H. W. Crocker III, a novelist, but also a popular historian, cleverly insinuates some real history here and there, but these books are primarily funny, and they are adventure stories that can be enjoyed by pretty much all ages—from teens (who will like the action and broader comedy) to adults (who will appreciate the clever dialogue and cultural references). More than that—as becomes progressively more evident as the series rolls on—they are conservative satires on our own times (even if the actual setting is in the 19th century).
Some things can only be said—or can be said better or more meaningfully—in fiction. Orwell could have written about liberal bias in the BBC or done a nonfiction history of Stalin’s Russia, and it wouldn’t have the staying power of his novels Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm.
Conservatives today might wonder how our country succumbed to the trans madness, to the COVID lockdowns, or to the insanity of critical race theory’s war on our own history. Maybe they’re looking for answers in the wrong places—in political columns and news stories. Maybe the roots of these problems lie deeper. Maybe, in fact, as these books show in the most light-hearted way, they lie in some very basic evil ideas, whose evil nature is well-disguised—ideas that have had horrendous consequences.
To flatly state the case is not to convince most people. Most people find evil hard to imagine—or they merely unreflectingly attribute it to people they don’t like. People are much more willing to suspend their disbelief in evil when they engage with it in a story, in a novel, or in a movie, especially if it’s as entertaining as these novels are on many levels.
Of course, the novels read extremely well as a set, but they also each stand on their own as exciting, hilarious tall tales of Western derring-do. Armstrong and the Mexican Mystery is a book I’ll be giving to many friends and family this Christmas because it is Crocker’s best Armstrong novel to date, perhaps because it is the most fantastical. It also lands a haymaker punch against all that is most troubling about the modern world.
In this volume, Armstrong and his swashbuckling cohorts—including the famous American journalist and man of mystery Ambrose Bierce—embark on an adventure to Mexico, where they encounter the lost civilization of Atlantis, led by a gnomic pseudo-scientific eminence named Faucon, who has plans to subvert the Western world, and controls his own people through a program of fear, propaganda, and experimental gene therapy.
Over the top? Maybe. But it’s a great story, an old-fashioned page-turner, and I have a feeling that conservative readers will find it more compelling, provocative, and even inspiring (the patriotic American good guys win) than any straight reporting I might point them to about what has happened to our country over the last few years.
If you’re depressed about the state of America, this book might shake you out of it and give you some hope—and it’s satirically entertaining enough perhaps to inoculate your high school or college-aged kids against the madness that surrounds them and us. This book is my conservative novel of the year.