This third installment of a series revives Marshal Angus Esperraza for another eventful ride, this time joining a research expedition retracing the forced relocation of the Navajo.
Angus has no plans for the day in Chama, New Mexico, beyond studying a map, but when a telegraph comes in telling him about a new assignment, he jumps into action. Or rather, first he has a chat with his gunsmith wife, Jill, which sets the tone for this Western, full of long discussions and thoughtful interactions in 1888. In fact, lengthy talks are the point of Angus’ latest mission. He is accompanying a Smithsonian researcher and writer, a military man, and a Navajo woman along the path used by the Army when the Navajo were relocated to Bosque Redondo in New Mexico. Naturally, tensions flare, and a series of crimes—a young guide shot and killed, a stagecoach brake sabotaged, etc.—raises the possibility that someone doesn’t want this research concluded. While this seems like a classic Western setup—complete with a stagecoach full of diverse characters—the focus isn’t on typical action scenes, but on more cerebral issues of history. At times that emphasis on dialogue leads to some didacticism, and not just from the Smithsonian’s researcher: for instance, the man described as “an experienced teamster” goes on to note regional differences in what the driver is called—“a whip back East, or a teamster out West.” The Navajo woman imparts a history lesson, asking, “Did you also know that it was a Mexican, a man called Nakhayazih, who established the first trading post at Chinle in 1882?” There are some engrossing tidbits about the past in Stuart’s (Anatomy of a Confession, 2016, etc.) work, and some impressive conversations about the violent Long Walk of the Navajo. But with many in the cast sounding more alike than different, and with much of the book being taken up by those exchanges, readers may end up educated about the bloody history of the Southwest, but not necessarily engaged by these characters.
A Western tale packed with intriguing historical issues but lacking fully developed characters.