Palaz (The Checker Board: Book One, 2013) continues gunman Dave Smith’s adventures in West Texas in a dark, violent Western involving not cowboys and Indians, but railroads and businessmen.
At the end of the previous installment, Dave had found a home at the Checker Board Ranch, complete with a new father figure, Pinto Larson; Dave’s friend Sam; and a love interest, Dolores. But his haven may not last now that unscrupulous businessmen have come to exploit opportunities in West Texas. Dave’s tyrannical father is one of them, and he’s interested in taking revenge on his wayward son. When Dave’s father prevents the railroad from taking Larson’s cattle to market, Larson and the other cattlemen organize an old-fashioned cattle drive. Later, Larson and Dave must contend with outlaw bounty hunters; a legal wrangle over the deed to the Checker Board land; and a land surveying company that takes over the Checker Board hacienda. In the first book, a fight or a conversation would usually quickly resolve a problem; but here, when even the law turns against the Checker Board ranchers, there are no easy solutions. Book One often downplayed tension, but this installment is breathlessly paced, with Dave Smith facing conflict after conflict. Palaz ratchets up the excitement by constantly putting characters in harm’s way—and occasionally allowing them to be harmed. However, this second book still contains some of the first’s quirky prose; for example, the narration occasionally switches between Dave’s first-person point of view and an omniscient third-person perspective. Dave’s observations still sometimes feel overdone, as when he describes tyrannical fathers who “continued a smug life, unmindful of all the dire disintegration of two children’s lives.” Although the violence never feels gratuitous, squeamish readers may have a hard time with the body count, which is more Sam Peckinpah than John Ford.
A well-paced, if occasionally awkward, Western tale.