Thursday, January 10, 2019

Noteworthy Reads: BLAKE'S RULE by J.R. Lindermuth

This latest work from John Lindermuth is a fine Western in the traditional mold, but with some intriguing twists and distinctions that make it a high cut above average. Sam Blake, a range detective working for the Thiel Agency out of Denver, is on the trail of a rustler. But when he arrives in the small Wyoming town of Kraft, he is soon diverted from that mission and drawn instead into another matter, namely that of aiding the local sheriff in protecting his current prisoner from a lynch mob.

The prisoner is a black woman who, prior to her arrest, was the cook at the town's only cafe. Her reason for being behind bars: She killed and castrated her former employer, the owner/proprietor of the cafe, a man named Graham. She admits to the crime, offers no defense, is prepared to accept her fate in a legal trial and asks only that her two young children, a boy and a girl, are looked after in her absence. The woman, Miriam, is a beautiful widow formerly married to a white man; following his death, she and her children were “taken in” by Graham and given keep in return for Miriam doing the cooking for the cafe. That she would repay him so viciously for this “kindness” is the impetus behind the festering mood to see her hanged post haste. Helping this along is an undercurrent of racial prejudice and also the well-known fact that Fremont, the local sheriff, has long been enamored of Miriam; there are those who believe these feelings might cause him to try and sway the outcome of a standard trial. Adding fuel to the fire is the personal animosity that the most powerful rancher in the territory – a man with a small army of gun toughs at his disposal – also feels toward Miriam.

It's hard to discuss much more about how these various interactions play out without revealing key plot elements. Suffice it to say that the bad guys are despicably bad while both Blake and Sheriff Fremont, along with Fremont's deputy Keenan, are heroic in their attempts to keep Miriam and her children safe from those who would lynch the woman – and worse. Miriam herself is a strong, memorable, wonderfully drawn character who more than holds her own. Before it's all done there is a good deal of violent action, tragedy, betrayal and retribution, more than a few surprises, and some nice touches of romance. The characters, good and bad alike, are colorfully drawn and given genuine depth. Lindermuth's effortlessly smooth prose moves along at a perfect pace, rich with historically accurate details yet never at the cost of interfering with a riveting tale.

Strongly recommended.