In this debut Western, a hardened bounty hunter runs into trouble in Texas.
It is the late 1880s, and the small town of Jackson, located in the dry, unforgiving terrain of East Texas, is about to be visited by an assortment of gunslingers and bounty hunters. Living on the outskirts of Jackson are five kids, ranging in age from 11 to 15—Samuel, Neddy, and Pete Pound and Clementine and Jackie Carver. The Pound children are being raised by their Baptist father, Ogilvie, a drunk. He is killed by moonshiner Vaney Jeffers just a few chapters into the book. The Carver siblings are looked after by their widowed mother, who spends many hours in the woods talking to her husband’s ghost. Meanwhile, over in Clay, Texas, Vernon, a tough bounty hunter with no last name (and a tender spot for women and children in danger), is waiting for the sheriff to process his reward money when he spies a man forcing a young Chickasaw woman into a barn. Vernon, who turns out to be the novel’s protagonist, follows. Before long, Vernon has freed the woman, Sky, and made an enemy of the county’s wealthiest resident, Wayne Mather. Unfortunately, Mather has a couple of brothers. It is time to get out of town. Shootouts will follow. In Sharp’s promising first novel, the action-fueled plot moves down the road to Jackson, maintaining a steady pace and ultimately threatening the Pound and Carver kids. The author delivers a strong protagonist and an engaging supporting cast. But the story has so many characters that keeping them all straight takes some effort. Happily, the montage of vignettes that results when all of the main players intersect is filled with enough lively dialogue and gently edgy prose (dropped casually into the narrative) to keep the audience charmed and amused: “Most folks tend to think of fate as chance, except for the Baptists who believe in the holy cookie cutter theory of existence, unless there is a poor outcome in which case fate is assigned a malevolent motive that is personal to the vexed individual.”
A likable, quirky hero and delightful youngsters make this violent yarn appealing.