A stubborn young man with a checkered past tries to find his path at a U.S. Army base in the Arizona frontier.
Tucson is a dangerous place in 1871, brimming with thieves, whores and daily brawls among the Apache, entrepreneurial trailblazers and drunken U.S. soldiers. Nearby at Camp Bowie, Ned Thorne, the educated 17-year-old son of a Hartford shopkeeper, doesn’t quite fit in. Clearly running away from something, which he achingly alludes to in unfinished letters to his brother, Ned both fears and uses his violent temper, hoping it will prove his manhood to his elders, particularly his partner, a conniving man named Brickner. Ned becomes the assistant to the captain, and they form a tentative bond, finally revealing that Ned’s shame came from his brother’s accidental death, for which he has taken responsibility. Tragedy strikes when Apaches invade a nearby ranch, killing two men and kidnapping a woman. Upon investigation, Ned’s illiterate bunkmate steals the woman’s journal and bequeaths it to Ned, who quickly becomes engrossed in her story. Like Ned, the woman had fled her New England home, though the frontier was not what she expected—her betrothed died en route, and she became stuck in a loveless marriage to an Arizona rancher. Both the journal and a series of bloody squabbles with the Apache lead to an impromptu mission to save the woman, which takes the men into unchartered territory, results in a bloodbath and tests young Ned’s fortitude. After building suspense, the author abruptly abandons both his hero and his reader in the aftermath of battle. Nonetheless, Cobb, in his first novel since his debut (Crazy Heart, 1987), ably recreates the American frontier.
Tender and action-packed, a historical western with everything but the ending.