Fourteen-year-old girl hires the toughest Federal Marshall she can find to help her track down and bring to justice the man who killed her father in cold blood. Somewhat to her consternation, their party is joined by a handsome Texas Ranger who has been after the killer for months for another murder. Young Mattie Ross is a force to be reckoned with -- self-possessed, strong-willed, and educated (by cowboy standards); she is, however, utterly humorless, and much of the charm of the novel, which is told by Mattie a quarter century after the fact, lies in the way she is perceived by others, and how those perceptions fly right over her head. The style is simple and formalized, giving the humor an understated quality that can creep up on you, but also making the book highly readable (it's a pleasure, for instance, not to have to slog through a lot of broken English and cowboy slang). The marshal is Rooster Cogburn, a fat man with only one good eye, who early on seems to recognize something of himself in Mattie's indomitability. Ultimately, it's all about Mattie, but Portis never wanders far from the plot, which makes this thoroughly enjoyable book exciting as well as funny, and even a little touching. Made into a film the following year starring Kim Darby and John Wayne.
People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day.