Saturday, May 11, 2013

Review Roundup: Peacemaker Nominees (Short Stories)

The third-annual Peacemaker Awards winners will be announced June 1. Between now and then, I aim to review all the nominees in four posts. Let’s start with the nominees for 2013 Best Western Short Story, shall we?

I don’t envy the judges their task. All of the nominees in the category are so strong that choosing a favorite or defining “best” seems well-nigh impossible.

The reviews appear in alphabetical order by story title.

By Wayne Dundee
in Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT
Goombah Gumbo Press, August 2012

Wayne Dundee’s short story about a hardened bounty hunter and a jaded madam who band together to preserve a child’s innocence is the only nominee not set at Christmastime. The heartwarming tale explores themes of regret and redemption as the bounty hunter and the madam embark on a plan to rescue a precocious pre-teen girl from the sexual slavery they suspect awaits her after a farmer claims the girl during an Orphan Train stop. The writing is top-notch, emotive, and action-packed, but never maudlin or preachy. Proceeds from the sale of the anthology benefit the National Organization to Protect Children, a non-profit supporting non-partisan legislative that protects children from abuse, exploitation, and neglect.

“Christmas Comes to Freedom Hill”
By Troy D. Smith
in Christmas Campfire Companion
Port Yonder Press, November 2011

Troy Smith’s fiction always is notable for the way it breathes life into little-discussed slices of American history. This tale, told in first-person as though an elderly black man were recounting one of the seminal moments in his life, combines two such slices: The Works Progress Administration’s Great Depression effort to document the memories and experiences of former slaves, and the Exodusters, former slaves who headed west after the Civil War with the hope of escaping bigotry and oppression. Filtering a child’s sense of wonder through the wisdom of age, the narrator describes for a WPA interviewer how his sheriff-father’s faith saved the upstart Exoduster town of Freedom Hill, Kansas, from destruction at the hands of a white cattle baron. Not a shot is fired; instead the story brims with a High Noon-type of tension as it becomes apparent the lawman will confront the ruthless baron and his gang alone. Smith’s prose is eloquent and evocative, ultimately making the point that no matter how different the external trappings, inside all men share the same hopes, dreams, desires, and needs.

“Christmas for Evangeline”
By C. Courtney Joyner
in Six-Guns and Slay Bells: A Creepy Cowboy Christmas
Western Fictioneers, October 2012

The creepiness in C. Courtney Joyner’s contribution to Six-Guns and Slay Bells creeps up on readers. Haunted by a bank robbery that went awry two years earlier, a banker and a reformed outlaw share a drink on Christmas Eve, only to discover the crime they thought they got away with won’t go unpunished. While the banker sinks ever deeper into madness and the increasingly spooked outlaw tries to talk him back from the edge of a cliff that will destroy them both, the ghostly presence of a beautiful suicide — collateral damage from the bank robbery — manipulates both men…with gruesome results. The twist at the end is sure to leave a chill.

“Keepers of Camelot”
By Cheryl Pierson
in Six-Guns and Slay Bells: A Creepy Cowboy Christmas
Western Fictioneers, October 2012

Cheryl Pierson’s genre-blending time-travel tale overlays her usual gritty style with a softer, more psychological veneer. Exploring themes of loyalty, love, and forgiveness, “Keepers of Camelot” finds King Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot “reborn” in the Old West as, respectively, a gun-toting drifter, a stagecoach way-station owner’s wife, and an Apache warrior. Though they’ve caught glimpses of one another several times during their centuries of life-hopping, this Christmastide is the first time all three have come face to face since Lance and Ginny’s betrayal of Arthur killed Camelot. According to legend, the Once and Future King will return when and where he’s needed, but Arthur is weary of returning again and again. An orphaned teenage boy’s unshakeable belief in the legend holds the key to peace for all of them. Even those who are not fond of time-travel stories will enjoy this bittersweet tale.

“The Toys”
By James J. Griffin
in Six-Guns and Slay Bells: A Creepy Cowboy Christmas
Western Fictioneers, October 2012

James J. Griffin’s “The Toys” presents another descent into madness at the hands of the supernatural. This time, a gunman hired by powerful cattlemen intent on ridding the open range of nesters discovers ruthlessness at Christmas carries a steep price. Pitting guilt against innocence and might against right in the microcosm of one man’s thoughts, Griffin delivers ironic retribution from an unlikely source — leaving readers to decide whether the gunman destroyed himself from within. The style and theme are fairly typical for Griffin, though the outlaw protagonist is something of a departure. Griffin’s badmen always get what’s coming to them — no surprise there. The difference here lies in the way the inevitable justice is delivered.

Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and a novelist in training. She received review copies of all except Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT from the author or publisher. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization.


  1. Excellent reviews and spot on, as usual! I feel sorry for whoever has to pick the winner. Great stories, all.

  2. Kathleen,

    You do good reviews. It is hard work to read stories, analize, and write reviews.

    Charlie S.

  3. Jacquie, I feel sorry for the judges, too! I don't know how I'd go about picking a favorite in the short stories category. They're all wonderful, each in its own way.

    Charlie, you are much too kind, darlin'. I'm having a ball reviewing for the blog. I get to read lots of great western fiction! :-)

  4. Kathleen, I always enjoy reading your take on things. Great reviews, always, and you make me want to read more! Thanks so much for the wonderful review for The Keepers of Camelot. I'm thrilled to be included in the list of nominees this year!

  5. Still loving your reviews, Kathleen. Please keep them comin'.

  6. Kathleen--you win--you're the best reviewer!
    I have a couple of favorites, but I won't say in case I hurt someone else's feelings. They're all winners, for sure--just look at the author's names!--and the judges will not have an easy task. All the better for a contest between "the best of the best."
    Wonderful reading the reviews.

  7. These all sound like top-notch reads! I already have the Christmas anthology waiting patiently in my tbr pile, but the other story mentioned sounds like a must read, as well. I'll be snatching that up for sure.

    Thank you, Kathleen, as always for your super reviews and adding to my already bulging kindle. :)

    Best of luck to all nominees! Glad it's not me judging.


  8. It is the reader who is the winner here. All the stories sound magnificent and the ones I have read are great. Love the reviews. Doris

  9. I enjoyed these reviews and I have sympathy for the judges who actually have to choose a winner. These stories are all top notch.

  10. Thanks for the great review of my story, Kathleen. It's an honor to have it included in this group.

    Jim Griffin