Carol Buchanan writes historical Westerns about people forced to make dangerous choices to establish the law when gold, greed, and a vacuum of law led to ruffians’ rule and a tolerance for murder.
Her fascination with the Vigilantes of Montana began when she stood in the Hangman’s Building in Virginia City, Montana, and heard the ropes creak. Much later, with a PhD in English & History, she has researched and written four historical novels about Montana’s Vigilantes.
Collectively known as the Vigilante Quartet, they are God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana, The Devil in the Bottle, Gold Under Ice, and The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock.
She has won several awards for her work, including both a Spur (2009) and Spur Finalist (2011) awards from the Western Writers of America, and the “Spirit of Dorothy Johnson” award from the Whitefish Library Association in Whitefish, MT (2016).
After long years wandering in urban deserts, she went home to the Flathead Valley in Northwest Montana with her husband, Richard Buchanan.
“Stark is a compelling, complicated hero, one of several finely drawn characters who bring the Old West to life.”
– Kirkus Reviews
A Montana Territory lawyer must solve a murder to save his family and salvage his good name.
The final installment of Buchanan’s (Gold Under Ice, 2010, etc.) Vigilante Quartet examines the evolution of Daniel Stark. He made his fortune and settled his father’s debts. Despite some hesitation, he returns to the newly created Montana Territory to wed his lover, Martha McDowell, raise her children, and establish a law practice. To his surprise, Martha is pregnant with his child, and Stark is now the prime suspect in the murder of her first husband. Stark must find the killer so he can clear his name and avoid the hangman’s noose. Luckily, the territory has gained some semblance of civilization in Stark’s absence. Taxes have been levied, a jail has been constructed, and a new chief justice imposes law and order, instructing the vigilantes to hang up their spurs. While Stark is happy to get out of the vigilante business, he remains haunted by the past. He is unable to escape the memories of vigilante hangings, and the smelly specter of a hanged man shadows Stark’s every move. While fending off a ghost and hunting a murderer are more than enough to keep him occupied, Stark gets drawn into another contentious battle: the creation of the territory’s new and vital mining laws. Buchanan offers a murder mystery that is set during a formative time in Montana’s history. It is an absorbing period, when the laws were unclear and so much rested on their creation and enforcement. The story is based on true events, and the author wisely populates the town of Virginia City with characters that really lived or are modeled on those who did (such as Stark). Stark is a compelling, complicated hero, one of several finely drawn characters who bring the Old West to life. Buchanan’s devotion to research is apparent throughout the novel, in detailed conversations between miners about the benefits of using Common Law rather than the Idaho statutes or references to inescapable political conflicts that arise from the continuing Civil War.
A solid addition to the Western genre and a satisfying conclusion to a vigilante series.
Pub Date: May 13, 2016
Page count: 538pp
Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2016
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016
The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock: Spirit of Dorothy Johnson , 2016
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