Jones’ debut Western novel follows two Montana cowboys through the highs and lows of ranching life.
Having just been hired by Ray Rayburn to work on the North Flats cattle ranch, Luke McKeever finds himself stranded with his new partner and boss in a cabin during a blizzard. Things take a turn for the worse when Ray comes down with appendicitis. Luckily for him, Luke, thanks to his father’s insistence, is a former medical student. With the help of alcohol and prayer, the two form a lifelong bond as they face near-certain death in the blistering cold. North Flats, from 1949 until the present day, is the primary setting for a refreshingly diverse cast of characters: an Irish doctor, Native American ranchers, a presumably French cook and others, all of whom Jones blends together well. When a bounty hunter starts skulking around, the ranch becomes the backdrop for the dark mystery’s showdown, although this major plot point would have been more appealing if it had been further developed. Nonetheless, with the exception of the aforementioned showdown, the remaining storyline is strong, which isn’t surprising given that Jones admits the tale is semiautobiographical. The writing, in contrast, is weaker, and the dialogue can be choppy and clipped, making conversations seem rushed. Some scenes and narrative threads need more description, especially the assortment of romantic relationships; other plot points, such as Ray’s military service or Luke’s ever-present watch, could do with less description. Ultimately, Jones’ story isn’t about storms, as the title might suggest; it’s about taking life as it comes and getting back on the horse that bucked you off.
A broad, promising Western in need of wrangling.