Continuing his trilogy about one-time St. Louis street kid Cash McLendon, Guinn (Glorious, 2014, etc.) rides onto the Great Plains.
Still pursuing lost love Gabrielle and wary of an assassin dispatched by his former father-in-law, Cash drifts through Texas, loses his grubstake to Doc Holliday, and stumbles into "unsightly and dangerous" Dodge City, all "sod huts and wooden shacks." He meets Bat Masterson, a "mouthy little peckerwood," and the two scavenge buffalo bones to earn beans and bed. Guinn makes lively characters of historical buffalo hunters, and his imaginative take booms like a Sharps .50 as cultures collide across the Cimarron River, which locals call the Dead Line: "When we cross over, we're truly in Indian country." The last great buffalo slaughter is centered at Adobe Walls in Texas. Quanah, a Comanche war chief "more feared than Satan himself," has manipulated Kiowa and Cheyenne Indians with claims that the great chief Buffalo Hump’s spirit can drive whites from the plains. In chapters that alternate between Cash’s and Quanah’s points of view, storekeepers price-gouge, hunters drink and fight, Comanches go hungry, and Texas cattlemen wait for the legislature to move the "tick line" quarantine to Dodge. Guinn’s research brings to life the daily lives of the Comanche: their focus on plunder, torture, and rape to drive Apaches, Mexicans, and whites from the "hard, wild land known as Comancheria." Guinn also incorporates an intriguing subplot about Mochi, a Cheyenne woman and Sand Creek massacre survivor who's later accepted into the fierce dog soldier clan. Cash is no white-hat hero; he's often a vacillating opportunist who "had broken promises as easily as he’d drawn breath." Nevertheless, his flaws lend realism as he survives Adobe Walls and sets out for Arizona to find Gabrielle.
Few Westerns reach the level of Lonesome Dove, but Guinn’s latest is a better, more rambunctious tale than the trilogy’s opener.