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One still experiences a sense of d‚j… vu reading a historical by Kelton (The Far Canyon, 1994, etc.). We have met these characters and they are us: sometimes weak and foolish, sometimes heroic, always complex and, for the most part, fundamentally decent. Young Trey McLean is a pumpkin roller (farmer) with ambitions of being a cattleman. Leaving his father's East Texas farm with a dun horse and four old cows he rides toward the unclaimed lands ""out west."" When his cows are stolen by a greedy farmer with the connivance of a dishonest sheriff, it is not his anger at this injustice but his helplessness to alter the situation that wins us over. He is not an archetypal macho hero with blazing six-guns but an ordinary man who confronts unfairness with gritted teeth. We share Trey's confused response to Jarrett Longacre, a top hand and a fugitive from the law, whose thoughtless outlaw ways embroil Trey with Marshal Gault, a lawman with an obsessive, unforgiving nature. Jarrett is a likable, troublesome presence in each stage of Trey's life and labors: the wagon yard in Fort Worth; on Ivan Kerbow's cattle drive, the event signalling Trey's rite of passage from farmer to cowboy; on Kerbow's ranch in far West Texas. When Trey marries Sarah Stark and agrees to manage Kerbow's ranch, Kelton adds a feminine dimension to the narrative. Just as Jarrett stands in contrast to Trey, Katy Rice, a former prostitute who becomes involved with Jarrett, is Sarah's opposite. Sarah's fear of loneliness has her hearing voices in the wind, while Katy relishes solitude. The final confrontation between Jarrett and Gault forces each of these four characters to resolve their inner conflicts and accept the consequences. A superb coming-of-age novel by a master western storyteller whose deft touch with characterization is underappreciated.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0812543998
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Forge/Tor