From award-winning western yarnspinner Kelton (The Pumpkin Rollers, 1996, etc.) comes his 36th, the tale of a gentle Texas boy forced by harsh circumstances to come of age while on the run from both the law and a murderous stepmother. When Joey Shipman's father dies after a suspicious accident, leaving his farm to his 12-year-old child and thereby lighting the fuse of the boy's already mean-tempered stepmother, it's only a matter of time before the fireworks begin. Sure enough, Joey's last protector, the old family handyman, is found dead in his bunk; knowing that he's next on the list, Joey takes the first opportunity to run away, heading west to find his cousin Beau, a man he barely remembers but who is his only known kin. Beau proves to be a dedicated drunk, spending as much time in the county jail as in his own tumbledown shack. Taking reluctant responsibility for his orphaned cousin, Beau is only too happy to hand him over when Joey's new stepfather comes to take the runaway home. But when the man tries to drown the boy, Beau intervenes and, after a desperate struggle, the would-be killer is himself apparently killed. Running from the deed, the cousins fall in with a feared outlaw, who turns out to have a son Joey's age. The outlaw takes them to a hole-in- the-wall hideout, but bad blood between bandits soon has them on the run again, this time with a young ex-prostitute who was the cause of the ruckus. They join up with an old sheepherder taking his flock home for the winter, but ultimately Joey and Beau turn back toward home, determined to face the consequences of what they've done. Adventure aplenty, and no lack of trademark historical detail, but plot and characters are a tad formulaic here, making this a less engrossing yarn than its predecessors.