Friday, May 31, 2013

Review Roundup: Oh, Canada!

High Stakes
By Chad Strong
Clio, May 2012
$4.99 Kindle, ASIN B00826OAGE
230 pages

What’s a professional gambler to do when the new preacher's wife forms a high-handed morality committee to run all the brothels, saloons, and gambling dens out of town? Fight back by infiltrating the preacher's family and compromising the reputation of his innocent daughter, that’s what. But deceit carries a tremendous price…especially when both sides of the cat-and-mouse game are running their own covert ops.

Chad Strong’s High Stakes, nominated for the 2013 Best Western First Novel Peacemaker Award, stands out among the nominees for two reasons: It’s set in a town, and that town is in Canada — Victoria, British Columbia, to be exact.

The author does a number of things well in his debut novel. Characterization is his strong suit, along with an ability to incorporate mountains of detail without annoying readers or slowing the story’s pace to a crawl. A few anachronisms in exposition and dialogue (“uptight,” an Americanism dating to the 1960s, for example) may jangle some readers, but overall Strong does an excellent job of capturing a time (1877), place, and society largely overlooked in the western genre.

The author also blends elements from several subgenres extremely well. Strong language and marginally explicit sexual content prevent an “inspirational” label, though much of the story focuses on the preacher’s earnest attempts to turn the protagonist away from a life of sin. The interactions between the two characters skirt the edge of proselytizing, but not closely enough to annoy readers who avoid the inspirational category. The novel meets all the qualifications to bear the label “western historical romance” quite well, but romance traditionalists may object to the love triangle that forms the fulcrum of the plot, since a certain amount of bed-hopping is involved. (Men, by the way, can read this one without endangering their man cards. Did I mention the gunfights, knife fights, and fistfights?)

Even at 230 pages, High Stakes is a quick read. And it’s fun. The ending, balanced on a thin line between expectation and surprise, shines.

Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and a novelist in training. She received a review copy of High Stakes from the author. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization.


  1. This sounds like yet another wonderful book to look forward to reading, Kathleen. You did an excellent job of reviewing it, as always, and my appetite is whetted for more. It sounds like a perfect blend of lots of exciting elements that it takes to make up a good story. I'm looking forward to reading it!

  2. You've gotta give a bad review sometime, Kathleen, just to save my poor Kindle. ;) Seriously, High Stakes sounds like another great read.


  3. This indeed IS another great read. I was one of the judges in the First Novel category this year and have to say the crop of new authors bodes wonderfully well for the Western genre for years and years to come.

  4. Man, Kathleen, you've been workin' overtime to get us all these informative reviews on the Peacemaker finalists- thanks so much!

  5. Troy, y'all are more than welcome. I've enjoyed reading all the nominees. I'm disappointed I couldn't get them all reviewed before tomorrow's winners announcement, but I plan to post the final two reviews ASAP. I hope Larry Bjornson and D.B. Jackson will forgive me for being late with theirs.

    Cheryl, knowing your taste in WHR runs toward the gritty end of the spectrum like mine does, I bet you'll enjoy HIGH STAKES. On an intellectual level, the juxtaposition of the various elements is incredibly interesting, too.

    Rustler (Kirsten), life is too short to read bad books, much less review them. Besides, these folks write westerns. I'm bettin' they're all packin', and I'd hate like heck to see bullet holes in the walls. ;-)

    Aha, Frank! So you're one of the owlhoots I have to thank for my poor Kindle's unseemly bulges, eh? ;-) I hope Chad reads your comment. That's high praise coming from an author who consistently turns out great reads. :-)

  6. Tex, you've whetted my curiousity for sure! I've had my eye on this book for a while. Congrats to Chad for the nomination!

  7. It never ceases to amaze at how many authors can write a great Western and not fall back on the usual story lines. This really sounds like a promising read. Doris

  8. Thank you, Kathleen, for such an awesome review! I'm so glad you enjoyed High Stakes.

    Thank you, Frank, for your kind comments - it means a lot coming from someone with your credentials!

    Thank you, Jacquie - your continued support has been uplifting!

    Cheryl, Kirsten, and Doris, thank you for your interest in High Stakes. I hope you'll enjoy it!