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.