Saturday, November 9, 2013
A REVIEW OF WOLF CREEK: BOOK 1, BLOODY TRAIL BY CHARLIE STEEL
When I first heard that Western Fictioneers was going to write a series of books about a fictional western town in Kansas by multiple writers under one name, I thought, yeah—right, that’ll work. My cynicism was wrong. IT DOES WORK.
Under the fertile mind of Dr. Troy Smith, (current Western Fictioneers President and Professor of American Indian History at Tennessee Tech University) he single handedly developed the original concept of having multiple writers create a series of books under the fictional name of Ford Fargo. The imaginary town where interaction of the multiple characters would take place was Wolf Creek, Kansas. Spending a great deal of time and creative thinking, Dr. Troy Smith developed a “bible” of names, dates, and history of the town and its characters. With each character having a back story, the participating multiple writers of Western Fictioneers utilized this data and plot information to write individual chapters that could be combined into one cohesive book. The result, Voila! As to date: Nine Wolf Creek series books have been written and published by Western Fictioneers.
Not only is this a new concept in writing (for westerns), it’s one that has caught on with the readers---and the book series is reportedly selling well.
In reading the first book of the series, Wolf Creek: Book 1, Bloody Trail, I was blown away with the complex plot and multiple characters introduced in the first two chapters by writer Clay More (Dr. Keith Souter). There is a plethora of western characters introduced, such as you would find in any other town. Many of these individuals have been hardened by life, struck with grief, tragedy, and scarred by the Great Conflict. They have fled their secret pasts to start anew in Wolf Creek, a thriving community established on the stream by the same name. With the coming of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, shortly after the Civil War, Wolf Creek became a growing cow town.
Chapter Two is one of the most exciting and dramatic episodes I have ever read in any book. Wolf Creek is suddenly raided by over twenty ex-soldiers, all experienced killers, former members of Quantrill Raiders. They ride into town, guns blazing, and in the process of thieving and robbing the bank, they execute a well planned military type raid by shooting down men, women, children, and horses and setting fire to various buildings. How the town endures and barely survives this unwarranted attack of over twenty killers, is an unforgettable and complex scene no reader will want to miss.
Chapters Three and Four are written by James J. Griffin. An experienced horseman himself, Griffin describes in detail how a posse is formed and rides out and begins to chase down the town killers, thieves, and bank robbers. Griffin’s expertise and horse knowledge show the importance of proper rest and treatment of the equines along the trail, or else their chase would end before it began. The interaction between the members of the posse describes men with tragic and hardened pasts, which as westerners, ends up serving them well in their long bloody chase after the outlaws.
The book then, in the following consecutive chapters, as the title indicates becomes a bloody tale of pursuit and justice.
However, this is no ordinary story of outlaw versus good guy. Intertwined in the following chapters written by Troy D. Smith, James Reasoner, L. J. Martin, and Cheryl Pierson, is a well developed interplay of specific characters who reveal their hidden pasts along the outlaw’s trail.
Quickly we learn that there are no innocents, even among the posse. We follow their rugged pursuit as they face ambush. Some in the posse are killed, others are wounded, all face hunger, thirst, and deprivation in their pursuit of the killers. Conflict arises between former union and confederate soldiers. The character interaction increases in intensity as the posse moves forward. It is only the ambushes and dangers they face from traps left by the outlaws that manage to keep them focused and together.
With each chapter we continually learn more about many of the posse members. Of most interest, were four distinct characters. The first is Dr. Logan Munro, a man of the world. He served as a physician and British soldier in the Crimean War and was later stationed in India, where he encountered the Indian Mutiny of 1857. During that time, his beloved wife became ill and died. Grieved that he could not save her, Dr. Munro ended up traveling to America and serving as a doctor in the Great Conflict. Having served in so many wars, and operated on countless wounded young soldiers, Munro is tired of death. He wants only to settle down in Wolf Creek and treat the town’s patients and live out the remainder of his life peacefully. With the raid on Wolf Creek and with so many of his acquaintances killed, he again picks up his Beaumont-Adams revolver and joins the posse to serve as doctor and experienced soldier.
Charley Blackfeather, half black/half Seminole has been hardened by the circumstances of his birth. At an early age he fought American soldiers who had come to Florida to forcibly remove and combat his tribe. In the swamps of Florida he learned stealth and the abilities to silently use knife and tomahawk. Having seen his family, friends, and fellow half black Indians stolen and sold into slavery, murdered, or forcibly assimilated and sent west, and to escape slavery himself, he joined an Indian Union regiment and fought in the Civil War. During the conflict he fought members of Quantrill’s Raiders who murdered many of his best friends. For Charley Blackfeather, this raid is not just to seek vengeance for the attack on Wolf Creek. It was to seek justice and find and kill those who murdered his friends. Above all those in the posse, Blackfeather is the most skilled in the art of weapons and death.
The third most interesting character for me, is Spike Sweeney. He is Wolf Creek’s blacksmith, and an ex-confederate soldier. Scarred by the war, he plans to live out his life tending to his trade and minding his own business. When the raid on Wolf Creek occurs, he sees he must act. Using his former military skills, he is a great asset to the posse, although somewhat distrusted. This trail of justice and revenge has hidden rewards for Sweeney as he learns to heal, through coming to the realization that many soldiers he fought against were human beings much like himself.
Last, Bill Torrance, the livery owner, watches as his best friend was shot down and killed, as was the woman he had great affection for. Putting on guns he swore he would never use, he joins the posse. On the trail a secret of his past was revealed, making him uniquely suited for this lawful pursuit.
This review does not in any way begin to do justice to this first book of the Wolf Creek series. The reader will have to take my word that regardless of genre interest, everyone will find this a well-written and exciting book. I predict a great future for the Wolf Creek series and easily see a Hollywood movie, or a long playing television program come from this exciting creation.
So, without reservation, I say: Wake up America! Pay attention Hollywood! This is an extraordinary Western epic of Americana and a great story any reader of any genre would want to buy and enthusiastically consume.
Review by Charlie Steel, author of Desert Heat, Desert Cold and Other Tales of the West.