Monday, February 11, 2013

Review Roundup: Murder and Salvation

Wolf Creek: Book 3
Murder in Dogleg City

By Ford Fargo
Western Fictioneers, December 2012
$2.99 Kindle, ASIN B00AJ69XFS
139 pages

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.

Bound for the Promise-Land
By Troy D. Smith
Western Trail Blazer, April 2011
$16.95 paperback, ISBN 1461042690
$3.99 Kindle, ASIN B004VBGYZO
440 pages

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.


  1. I have to say I am humbled and honored by your reaction to my book. It is the single creative/intellectual thing in my life I am proudest of, because it is so deeply imbued with my personal ideals. I'm also glad you like my crusty, arrogant, sarcastic, deep-down-softy of a town marshal. I absolutely have a ball writing for him, it's a hoot.

  2. Troy, I struggled with the review of PROMISE-LAND for days and still didn't do the story justice. Few books have disturbed me as much as that one did, while at the same time engendering a profound admiration for the human spirit in the face of adversity. PROMISE-LAND does an exceptional job of presenting the kind of deeper experience one sees too seldom in entertaining stories: It challenges the reader to examine humanity, our shared history, and how we relate to the things that have made us who we are in the aggregate. By focusing on one man's experiences and perceptions, PROMISE-LAND makes powerful, cosmic statements. I can't recommend it highly enough. :-)

  3. Postscript: That you have fun writing Gardner shows. As we say in Texas, "He's a character." ;-)

  4. Kathleen, I totally agree with your review of Bound for the Promise-Land. That's just an excellent book. Alfred became so real to me, I couldn't stop thinking of him as a "real person."

    Great reviews for both books--I enjoyed WC Murder in Dog Leg City as well--such a masterful blending of all the different people (and authors!)


  5. Again a great review. My list is getting bigger and bigger and I have my own that need to be written.

  6. Kathleen, mighty proud to have you give a favorable review to Murder in Dogleg City.
    Characters do abound and secrets unfold. I haven't read Promise Land yet but it being authored by Troy Smith definately puts the spotlight on a good read.

  7. I haven't read either book (have hardly read any books since before Christmas) but Murder in Dogleg City is on my Kindle and now it's obvious that I have to buy Troy's book. Having read the first story in his Blackwells series, I know anything he writes will be a real treat.

  8. Cheryl, we seem to agree about quite a few books. We're gonna have to compare reading lists. :-D

    RW, you always make me smile. Sorry to keep contributing to your TBR pile. I can be a pill that way. ;-)

    Jerry, I felt truly blessed to be offered the opportunity to contribute to the WF blog. I've been privileged to read (and spout off about) so many good books and short stories written by the members of this organization. You wrote Quint's chapter in DOGLEG CITY, didn't you? That poor boy. He's so earnest and so naive, I almost fear for his safety in that town. Can't wait to see what trouble he tangles himself up in next! :-D

    Jacquie, READ BOTH BOOKS! I promise you'll be moved by PROMISE-LAND, and knowing your sense of humor, you'll get a kick out of the witty repartee in DOGLEG CITY. :-)

  9. Actually, Jerry also contributed much of the overall plot!

  10. A couple of great reviews, Kathleen. I will have to get Troy's Promise-Land on the basis of that review. It sounds to be something special.

    I loved Murder in Dogleg City, especially the mystery element. As a crime writer myself, the twists and convolutions made for a very enjoyable read. My congratulations to all of the writers.

  11. In that case, Troy, Jerry deserves a hearty pat on the back in more than one area! DOGLEG CITY is very different from the first two books in the Wolf Creek series, but I think it may be my favorite to date. I love the challenge presented by a well-written mystery, and combine that with the Old West and a snarky character or two.... Well, let's just say I was in hog heaven.

    Keith, you're too kind -- but do pick up a copy of Promise-Land. I've already gifted Kindle copies to friends and family members. It's THAT good. And speaking of good: I'm looking forward to reading more from Clay More. I just came into a copy of the first release from the Western Fictioneers Library, RAW DEAL AT PASCO SPRINGS. Congratulations to you and the publisher on the release. :-)

  12. Yeah Kathleen, I wrote the first chapter but there were five more chapters written by five very talented authors. What a job they did! Troy contributed as well as edited, Livia contributed as well as did the cover and saw the book to print. A great team that I am proud to be in association with.
    By the way Quint will be back.

  13. I am finally ready to read book 2 in the Wolf Creek series, so I *cannot* wait to read this one, woooohooo!! LOVE a great mystery!! And I agree with you, Kathleen, about Promise-Land. I still think of Alfred and Bound for the P-L deserves to be a movie! Wonderful research, wonderful story, fabulous writing. You should be proud, Troy. Well-deserved Spur.

  14. Thank y'all very much. Alfred, and his friend Lonnie, are two of my favorites from among the characters I've created over the years. In fact, I kind of viewed Lonnie as a MLK figure, with Chamas as Malcolm X, and Alfred torn between them.