A young woman sets out to avenge her husband’s death and survive all manner of dangers in the Wild West.
McGowan (Double Dare, 2014, etc.) tells the story of Vanessa Cutter Fane, a woman raised by her cowboy father to ride and shoot as well as any man in the West. The novel unfolds as a flashback, with elderly Nessa, nearing the end of her life, remembering the dramatic death of her first husband at the hands of three bandits and her subsequent quest to avenge his death. Along the way, she found herself in danger several times and encountered a host of motley characters, including Tom Doubletree, a Texas Ranger whose strength and brains challenged and attracted her more than anyone she’d ever known. McGowan ably sets the scene of 1800s Texas and vividly describes the stark bleakness of life for many of the ordinary citizens Nessa encountered. This isn’t the sentimental West full of kindly saloon owners and benevolent Native American chiefs; it’s a darker, harsher place that is all the more appealing for its verisimilitude. Nessa is an excellent female lead, one who is strong and independent and only surrenders her autonomy willingly (to Tom). Tom, meanwhile, is a little more one-dimensional, but his chemistry with Nessa seems believable enough for readers to invest in. There are other complex female characters, including Nessa’s aunt Etta Cutter, who are enjoyable and accessible. The plot is a bit predictable, and the dialect McGowan uses is sometimes wearing: Too many sentences—“ol’ Clell got pretty well roostered” and “Hellfire, Gifford, you was young onct (sic) yourself”—are hard to parse and tend to bog down the flow of dialogue. On the whole, though, the novel is a fun read, set apart from the crowded pack of Western romance novels by its appealing characters.
A woman out West makes a name for herself in this enjoyable adventure.