Mel Odom, under his Colby Jackson byline, has been on a real tear across the Western fiction landscape this summer. Recently on these pages I wrote about THE MATAMOROS BULL, his latest novel in the Rancho Diablo series. On the heels of that, though not covered here, was the novella THE ARMADILLO'S HOLE SALOON. Both are mighty fine entries not only in the series, but in the Western genre overall.
Now comes the just-released THE PECOS UNDERTAKER, the first book in a projected new series featuring protagonists Charlie Stark and Maggie Buchanan. It is one of the most original and exciting page-turners I have come across in a long, long time!
At the start of the book, Charlie is an assistant undertaker to his mentor Mr. Henson; Maggie is a deputy working for her father, the town marshal. Both are loners with troubled pasts and few friends, though they have a rather tenuous relationship with each other.
Mr. Henson is tortured and killed for mysterious reasons by the vicious outlaw Angel Blunt and Charlie is shot and left for dead. Not long after that, Maggie's father is also killed by Blunt and his gang as the result of a raid that leaves many other Pecos citizens injured and dead as well. The worlds of Charlie and Maggie have been turned upside down and the two loners (now more so than ever) gradually strengthen their friendship and unify to put the pieces of their lives back together, always with the end goal of seeing Angel Blunt brought to justice. Charlie – even though a bit hot-tempered and handy with his fists – is nevertheless the calmer and more practical of the two; Maggie – cool, deadly with her brace of pistols and also quick to throw a punch – is the force that propels them forward.
Charlie no longer pursues the undertaker trade, though he still prefers dressing in a suit and tie such as he's become accustomed to; hence he is often still referred to as “the undertaker”. Maggie, discharged from her deputy duties by the new town marshal, continues to wear jeans and colorful blouses and to pack a pair of guns. Together they form a bail bond service and bounty hunt their own fugitives when the need arises.
They have several encounters with nasty hombres, learning as they go and becoming quite good at their trade. But they're always alert for something that will eventually lead them to Blunt and his gang and, without giving too much away, they achieve that in the rousing climax.
This is one of those books you never want to see end because it is that good, and you will definitely want to see more of Maggie and Charlie. The pace is fast, the action plentiful, the characters colorful and memorable, and the writing is top-notch.
I strongly, strongly recommend this book!