The Scorpion Trail, by Larry D. Sweazy, is the second in a series of westerns featuring Texas Ranger Josiah Wolfe. It fills in any gaps about the character for readers who missed the first novel in the series, and it whets the appetite for subsequent Josiah Wolfe adventures.
The novel opens with Wolfe at his new home in Austin, where he runs into a murder and the beginning of a mystery that haunts him the rest of the story. It ties in with events from The Rattlesnake Season, the first Josiah Wolfe novel, and will probably have ramifications that are explored in the third, The Badger’s Revenge. Author Sweazy does a fine job of creating a sense of continuity and the roll of life for his characters. Even secondary characters have a depth that makes them memorable after the reader turns the last page.
Although I’m a fan of the compact, 40-thousand-word westerns of the 1960s paperback era, this longer tale — which I estimate to be around 70-thousand words — doesn’t lag. It’s filled with action and incidents, as well as quiet scenes of discussion between characters. Sweazy performs well that tricky feat of building a relationship between the jaded Wolfe and the callow, hot-headed Scrap Elliott, who’s working hard to be a stalwart Ranger but still has a ways to go to fully mature.
The dynamics of Josiah Wolfe’s other relationships drive much of the plot. His regard for Austin's tenderloin district madam, Suzanne del Toro, and the mysterious Juan Carlos are nicely developed by Sweazy, who handles particularly well Carlos’ shadowy characteristics. The mysteries behind this fellow’s comings and goings certainly leaves the reader wanting more.
An actual Indian battle is incorporated into the plot: the Lost Valley fight between Texas Ranger Company B and Comanche and Kiowa in 1874. It’s a dramatic part of the book that doesn’t overshadow the rest of the story, but lends a good sense of what Ranger life was like for the Frontier Battalion.
Sweazy puts together all the parts of his narrative very well — characters, pacing, incidents. As a result, I look forward to reading the next book in the series and to seeing more from Larry Sweazy in the future.
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