The Wild West comes alive in this novel of prospectors, desolate cavalry posts, rotgut saloons and Apache raiders.
Cash McLendon is an orphaned street urchin in pre–Civil War St. Louis who catches the eye of a local robber baron, Rupert Douglass, who puts him to work as spy, fixer and bagman. The opportunistic Cash does the job expertly, so Douglass, intent on preserving his empire, offers his mentally unstable daughter, Ellen, to Cash in marriage. Cash takes the Faustian bargain in spite of his love for Gabrielle Tirrito, an immigrant Italian storekeeper’s daughter, but Douglass decides to insure the contract by driving the Tirritos from St. Louis. Shortly after the marriage, Ellen commits suicide. Cash, fearing Douglass’ retribution, flees St. Louis for the silver mining camp of Glorious, Ariz., where the Tirritos established another store. Seeking redemption, Cash remains in the mining camp even after Gabrielle rejects him. Gabrielle comes across as too saintly, and Cash would need to grow more to be a sympathetic protagonist, but other characters—mainly the townspeople—are realistically drawn, right down to the mayor’s plump wife who eats jelly by the jar. Seeking revenge, Douglass dispatches a 19th-century Terminator type, Patrick Brautigan, who arrives in Glorious to clamp "a meaty hand on [Cash's] shoulder, his thick fingers crushing McLendon’s collarbone." Guinn knows hot, windy, dusty frontier Arizona, from the rattlesnakes of Picket Post Mountain to the ragtag raiding Apache; poorly equipped, understaffed Army troopers charged with riding the land of the marauders; and the rough-hewn prospectors who retreat to adobe saloons featuring warm beer, rotgut whiskey and worn-out women. Although slow to kick into high gear, the plot is classic, with Cash fleeing the St. Louis frying pan only to fall face first into the fiery machinations of another rich rogue—a rancher who wants to control Glorious and siphon off its riches.
This first of a trilogy is more L’Amour entertainment than Lonesome Dove epic, but it’s good fun nonetheless.