Monday, February 11, 2013
Review Roundup: Murder and Salvation
Murder in Dogleg City
By Ford Fargo
Western Fictioneers, December 2012
$2.99 Kindle, ASIN B00AJ69XFS
Under cover of darkness, a newcomer is shot in the back outside a saloon in the disreputable area of Wolf Creek known as Dogleg City. The dead drifter’s valuables remain in his pockets, so robbery wasn’t the motive. As the murder investigation progresses and residents’ past indiscretions are exposed, prominent citizens on both sides of the law fall under suspicion.
Less bloody than its predecessors, the third volume in the Wolf Creek series mixes classical western tropes with a twisty whodunit that would have made Agatha Christie proud. Suspense and intrigue wind through every page. Even seemingly innocuous details and relationships play significant roles in the resolution.
Authors (in order) L.J. Washburn, Jerry Guin, Chuck Tyrell, Troy D. Smith, Matthew P. Mayo, and Phil Dunlap introduce a bevy of new characters in Murder in Dogleg City. The only familiar face belongs to Marshal Sam Gardner, whose sarcastic intellect and cynicism can’t quite hide the tiny embers of honor that life and circumstances keep trying to extinguish. Beneath a veneer of official corruption — an open secret in the town — Gardner is a decent man, often juxtaposing a startling compassion with an almost sneering disrespect for human weaknesses like drunkenness and idealism. His complexity reflects the best and the worst of everyone around him, tying together the story’s disparate threads.
It’s almost impossible to mention juicy bits of Murder in Dogleg City without revealing essential pieces of the murder-mystery puzzle. A number of excursions into characters’ backstories are more meaningful than they initially seem — and what a mesmerizing bunch of characters this group is. From the upstanding (Deputy Quint Croy) to the pitiable (town drunk Rupe Tingley) to the overtly or discretely dangerous (bounty hunter Rattlesnake Jake and gambler Samuel Jones, respectively) to the downright mercenary (saloon owner Ira Breedlove), each is the story’s standout…until the next one takes over the narration.
An excellent read, Murder in Dogleg City will keep readers entertained and on their toes until the very last sentence.
By Troy D. Smith
Western Trail Blazer, April 2011
$16.95 paperback, ISBN 1461042690
$3.99 Kindle, ASIN B004VBGYZO
Born a slave on a South Carolina plantation, Alfred longs for freedom — a concept he’s not even sure he can define. Though the Emancipation Proclamation removes the shackles of the South’s peculiar institution when Alfred is in his twenties, freedom for his soul remains elusive during four decades of war, bigotry, and tragedy. In the end, he's freed more by his own indomitable spirit than by governmental decree.
Winner of a 2001 Spur award from Western Writers of America, Bound for the Promise-Land is an epic of monumental proportions. As a civilian and then a U.S. soldier, Alfred fights to survive slave row, the Civil War, race riots in New York, the Indian wars in the southwest, and the Spanish-American War before he finds the promised land he unknowingly carried within him from the moment of his birth. Told entirely through Alfred's eyes, the story is brutal in many places and remarkably tender in others. If it isn’t already, the book should be required reading alongside classics by Mark Twain, William Faulkner, and other authors known for the historic and cultural significance of their work.
Impeccably researched and exceptionally written, Bound for the Promise-Land packs an enormous emotional and intellectual punch. Nevertheless, the prose is accessible and without heavy-handed, biased moralizing about complex issues. Much of that is due to the author’s deft hand in presenting Alfred’s existential angst. A simple man on the surface, Alfred’s still waters run deep internally. He’s confused, but never quite overwhelmed, by the unfairness and elemental indignity life often bestows for no discernible reason, yet he soldiers on — literally and metaphorically. By eventually adopting the surname Mann, he also articulates his quest and adds structure to the construct “Promise-Land,” which both former slaves and free Blacks seek as their ultimate reward for enduring the humiliation that is unavoidable in a world that judges a person by the color of his skin.
Bound for the Promise-Land is bound to be a classic — a wholly engaging read and an important work of literature.
Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and a novelist in training. She received review copies of Murder in Dogleg City and Bound for the Promise-Land from the publisher and author, respectively. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization.