Hightower debuts with a feel-good Western about a young man determined to make a fresh start in the New Mexico Territory in the late 1870s.
Nineteen-year-old Rob Wilson’s world recently crumbled: Both his parents and his kid sister died from typhoid fever. He sells the family ranch to fund a new beginning, and he and his best friend, Jessie Hatfield, leave West Texas, set on becoming ranchers in New Mexico. When they arrive at the Tularosa Basin, they’re sure that they’ve found the perfect location for their new venture—an area known as Dog Canyon. Now they must buy horses and cattle, and, of course, build the ranch itself. They soon find that they have much to learn about the unfamiliar environment. Fortunately, they meet up with Paco Mórales, an elderly Mexican trail cook who’s just survived a stampede during a cattle drive and is looking for work with a new outfit. Rob hires him on the spot. Next, they meet two Mescalero Apache: the elderly Wise Elk, who has a broken leg, and his grandson, Little Deer. Gradually, Rob and Jessie gather an eclectic group that includes ranchers and cowboys. Together, they head into the formidable territory of Llano Estacado in search of stampeded—and hence free—herds of cattle. Readers would do well to have some snacks nearby as they embark on this adventure, because there are more descriptions of food in this novel than one might find in a culinary guide to Paris. Even in the middle of a roundup, Paco and his Dutch ovens produce tempting fruit pie to top off some sumptuous chow. Overall, the narrative is light on violence and long on good fellowship, but it does have its tense moments during the skirmishes with inevitable bad guys. Although character development is minimal, Rob comes off as a charming young hero, and Hightower supplies intriguing details along the way about the day-to-day difficulties of early homesteading and ranching. The inclusion of Duke, a devoted coyote who befriends Rob, is an extra treat.
An entertaining ride despite relatively few action scenes.