Texan pioneers fight a war of stealth and slaughter against Comanche raiders in this gripping adventure.
With the Confederacy collapsing around them, 14-year-old Tom McKlarren, his mother, Kathryn, and baby sister, Mattie, and their devoted ex-slave, William, set off from Galveston to his Aunt Mollie’s ranch near Waco, hoping for refuge from the anarchy, hyperinflation and bushwhackers that roil the dying rebellion. (Mindful of her civilizing mission, Kathryn hauls an enormous piano along in their mule-drawn wagon.) Alas, the isolated homesteads on the Texas frontier are a source of even greater peril: Comanche Indians—superb horsemen, trackers and guerilla fighters bent on driving the white man from their hunting grounds. When a war party massacres a local family and abducts Kathryn along with Tom’s sweetheart, Sara, he sets out alone on a hopeless quest to rescue the women-folk from a fate worse than death. Fortunately, he meets up with Raifford MacReynolds, a legendary Texas Ranger who comes equipped with decades of Indian-fighting experience, courtly manners and the awesome firepower of his newfangled Henry repeating rifle and long-range Whitworth sniper’s gun. The author serves up well-crafted prose and sharply etched characters in this frontier yarn, complete with fancy shootin’ and ridin’, colorfully terse palaver, untarnished heroism and a ballast of gritty violence. (He doesn’t shy away from the settlers’ period-authentic hatred of Indians, but balances it with a noble, complex Indian scout.) Morris also delivers an engrossing historical novel that steeps readers in the atmospherics of pioneer life and the details of brush-clearing, livestock-tending, food-frying and store-bartering. It’s a bit of a sprawl, but at its center is a fine action odyssey set in the oceanic plains, where there’s no cover from pitiless eyes and survival is a nerve-wracking chess game that requires subtle strategizing, encyclopedic knowledge of horses, cattle, weather and terrain and the ability to read the slightest ripple of dust on a menacing horizon.
A vivid, rousing, old-school western.