An occasional look at the West, wild and otherwise, in fiction and nonfiction, comics, moving pictures, radio, music, and in ways yet determined or created. Caveat lector: Irregular postings from The Woodstove Whittlers and Wrangling Association may include a tall tale whose veracity may be difficult to ascertain, but whose sincerity should never be doubted. This blog may go on unexpected hiatus due to natural disasters, stampedes, seasonal roundups, or spontaneous potluck suppers. (Oh, and everything here is copyright Duane Spurlock unless otherwise noted.)
I'm not usually a fan of the plot that features a dude or greenhorn heading west and colliding with the earthy western customs, only to end up won over by the locals and having the “veneer of civilization” (in the words of Edgar Rice Burroughs) stripped away to leave something more straightforward and honest. But Matthew P. Mayo's considerable storytelling skills excellently overcome the obstacles inherent in this vintage plot, and he delivers a well-told, nicely paced, exciting novel that any western reader will find very satisfying.
In Dead Man's Ranch, a stranger — Bryan — comes to town, but everyone recognizes him as the spitting image of his father, who died recently and left one of the finest ranches in the territory to this son, who was sent East to be raised by his mother's parents after she died. There are complications to Bryan's taking over the ranch, of course: he's an Eastern dandy and doesn't have a clue to his family's story (his grandfather, who raised the boy, had disinherited Bryan's mother when she married the rough-and-tumble western rancher, and subsequently kept Bryan in the dark about his beginnings as he raised the boy, even returning unopened any letters and gifts from Bryan's father when they came to the house); his dead father left behind the kindly Esperanza, unmarried, but with a grown bastard son, good-hearted Brandon, who has spent most of his time in a bottle since his father's death. There's also the owner of the neighboring ranch—also a widower—who wants Bryan's new property; his reckless, hot-headed, and frequently drunken son, who will perform any violent act necessary to get hold of the dead man's ranch to gain favor from his hard-nosed father; and the rancher's daughter, who frequently mediates between the two hot-headed men of her family.
Throw in a psychopathic serial killer who has heard about the complicated mess about settling the dead man's property from a lawyer who was in his cups at a poker table (and who later ends up dead in an alley—guess who does him in?), and you've got all the ingredients for a western stew that is muy caliente.
Mayo weaves together all the tangled strands and pulls it off in fine fashion. He is a veteran western writer and historian of the West who has penned novels for Robert Hale's Black Horse Western imprint. (You can learn more about Black Horse Westerns at The Black Horse Extra blog.) It's a pleasure to see his work now made available to a wider mass-market audience. Mayo has recently released the first novel about his series character, Roamer, titled Wrong Town. It is available as a paperbound book or as an ebook for the Kindle. Readers who try Dead Man's Ranch will soon find themselves searching for his other books.