A bloated, pointless-seeming prequel to 1985's bestselling Lonesome Dove. In his fourth book in three years, McMurtry (most recently, The Late Child, p. 417) introduces us to future heroes Woodrow Call and Gus McCrae--here, green Texas Rangers who've rashly signed on before age 20, seeking adventure in the wilds of western Texas. On their first mission, an ill-fated attempt to find a safe passage from San Antonio to El Paso, the two come face-to-face with Buffalo Hump, the fierce Comanche chief who almost single-handedly wipes out the whole Ranger troop. Adventure number two is equally doomed--an attempted assault on the far-away Mexican stronghold of Santa Fe. Before they even get to New Mexico, though, Call and Gus must endure the bleak elements, more of Buffalo Hump's abuse, the brutality of the Apaches, and finally the might of the well-trained Mexican Army. While the Rangers are being decimated, the reader is assured of the two heroes' survival. And since the rest of the Rangers are stock B-movie characters--the mournful black cook, the sullen mountain man, the prostitute with a heart of gold--there's little reason to be engaged by them. Overall, the novel's a series of mostly predictable encounters, with no underlying theme or emotional weight, whose best characters--English prisoners stuck in an El Paso leper colony--don't appear until the very end, and then only as an afterthought. In fact, the is seems so slipshoddily produced as to seem unedited, filled with continuity gaps and leaps of fictional faith, not to mention endless scenes, improbable dialogue, and countless leaden sentences: "Gus didn't seem to be particularly concerned about the prospect of Comanche capture--his nonchalant approach to life could be irksome in times of conflict." Only for blindly faithful McMurtry fans.