HARD COUNTRY by Michael McGarrity


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Satisfying oater of the old-fashioned—or at least McMurtryesque—school.

Nobody ever said that taming the Wild West would be easy. But must it involve rattlesnakes dropping down from the ceiling to share the evening meal? It must if you’re hard-bitten John Kerney, who just can’t catch a break, even if he can read. His life out on the dusty plains of West Texas is punctuated by his wife’s death in childbirth, his brother’s murder and too damn many bullets. Enter a helpful stranger who, though he violates the code of taciturnity—“In the brush country of southwest Texas, a man’s past was considered his own business, unless he was otherwise inclined to talk about it”—becomes a protector of sorts for Kerney and the son he has had to leave behind. So, too, is another rawhide-tough buckaroo, Cal Doran, who takes no guff himself. Alas, John is not with the narrative for long before other obligations come due, but his son more than takes his place in a narrative that soon becomes very busy, crowded with real-world characters from late 19th-century New Mexico, among them Pat Garrett (the lawman who gunned down Billy the Kid) and Oliver Lee (the rancher “on the east side of the Tularosa” who may or may not have gunned down a neighbor in a feud that still reverberates). There’s plenty of period detail in this western by mystery novelist McGarrity (Tularosa, 1996, etc.). There’s appropriate language to boot; as a wizened old rancher reflects, for instance, “A waddie looking for work on foot wasn’t typical, and the saddle sure didn’t show much pride.” Yet there’s no anachronism one way or another, not too much Walter Brennan-ish gibberish or too many false concessions to modernity. 

A well-rendered neoclassic tale of the Old West, worthy of a place alongside Lonesome Dove and Sea of Grass.

Pub Date: May 10th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-525-95246-6
Page count: 624pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2012


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