Six-time Spur Award—winner Kelton (The Smiling Country, 1998, etc.) chronicles the early days of the Texas Rangers. Recently voted “the greatest Western writer of all time” by the Western Writers of America, Kelton creates characters more complex than L—Amour’s, though his descriptions lack the latter’s sensuous genius. Here, Kelton concentrates on the Rangers before they were officially formed, in the hardscrabble days when they were merely small companies of badly paid, badly fed volunteers in homespun and buckskin who, without badges, protected landowners’ unmarked borders in Mexican Texas; the time comes when they—re called upon to save ranchers from marauding Indians. Kelton’s lead character, Rusty Shannon, who joins the group in 1861 to hold off the Indians, has a strongly complicated background: back in 1840, his original family was murdered by Comanches; then in 1859 his foster father was also killed. Redheaded Rusty thinks he knows his father’s murderer was Isaac York, whom he’s marked in his mind for killing. The father and brother of his skinny, blue-eyed beloved, Geneva Monahan, are lynched by southern zealots; later, the Monahan house is burned to the ground by vengeful nightriders. Once he joins the Rangers, Rusty finds himself conflicted by prejudices among the outfit’s members—and the day comes when he must meet Buffalo Caller, the Comanche brave who slaughtered Rusty’s original family. To all this, which hints at the cruelty and horror Huck Finn met along the Mississippi, Kelton adds a surprisingly strong elements of humanity, remorse, reversals of character, and terrific nobility for the “red devils.” Wonderfully satisfying, sophisticated, unsentimental, superbly crafted, and full of a whopping good humor out of Twain. Hard to beat.