Books by Ralph W. Cotton

POWDER RIVER by Ralph W. Cotton
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 26, 1995

The sequel to Cotton's debut novel, While Angels Dance (1994), takes Jeston Nash, a horse thief formerly attached to the James gang, to Sioux territory for a new adventure that raises serious moral questions in a chaotic, violent environment. Nash is an amoral opportunist who arrives in Wyoming with a string of stolen horses and a forged purchase order from the US Cavalry in Fort Phil Kearny. From the moment he arrives, things go wrong: A man steals one of his horses, and Nash shoots him in the back as he rides away. It turns out that the dead man was one of the Pope brothers, a notorious outlaw gang with a reputation for vengefulness. As if that weren't enough, the cavalry is besieged by Sioux; every settler in the territory is fleeing south; and Nash is wanted for murder in Missouri, under one of his aliases. With the sardonic Quiet Jack Smith and the black giant Shod for accomplices, Nash is determined to complete the horse trade with the cavalry, despite formidable opposition: hostile Indians, outlaws bearing grudges, predatory government agents, and random drunks, refugees, and scavengers. The storyline becomes hyper-complicated as almost everyone Nash meets turns out to have some stake in his mission; ultimately, he decides to cast his lot with Chief Red Cloud and deliver a load of rifles to the Sioux. Having made an uncharacteristic commitment to honor, Nash then discovers that nearly everyone is willing to betray him for some personal gain. In a convoluted conclusion, though, he manages to escape intact—and a good bit wiser. Overly complex at times, but, still, an innovative, rewarding, and well-researched historical Western. Read full book review >
WHILE ANGELS DANCE by Ralph W. Cotton
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 20, 1994

A treatment for a gangster movie dressed in western clothes, this first novel could be a statement about western myth, but the mindless violence makes it just pornographic. Jeston Nash, the proud son of a Kentucky farmer, has a natural gift for anything involving horses. But the Civil War is on, and what once would have been a fistfight over a horse deal gone sour ends with Jeston killing the other boy in self-defense. ClichÇs pile up as Jeston's father sacrifices himself uselessly and Jeston links up with his cousins Frank and Jesse James and their gang. The group robs, murders, and plunders its way across Missouri, Kansas, and as far north as Chicago, moving toward a jarringly humorous denouement. Jeston makes an enemy of Daniel Zanone, an incestuous and corrupt lawman (but then, all the lawmen in the book are corrupt), and this hostility loosely links the scenes of ritualistic violence that are the book's raison d'àtre. Jeston falls in lust with a society girl who is later instrumental in his reentry into society and his partial redemption by love. He also rescues a Chinese whore from gang rape and keeps her in a remote cabin as his mistress for seven years. Cotton tries to build a moral into the story; he claims the book is based on his grandfather's reminiscences about the James-Younger gang, tales that in the novel become Jeston's effort to deglamorize gang membership for his young son. This worthy stab at undercutting the genre is doomed to failure by a clichÇ-ridden plot, pancake-flat characters, and lovingly realized acts of violence. First novelist Cotton writes well, has an intriguing philosophical bent, and convincingly fictionalizes historical research; maybe next time he will put these talents to better use. Read full book review >