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Indian Leader Trail Boss
by Clark Selby
Trafford Publishing

“He kept thinking they had really been lucky not to have any bad weather on the trip. “Please God, just one more day of good weather.”

Indian Leader is the name of an English and Irish “trail boss,” or a cowboy who leads huge herds of cows from rural ranches to large cities in the West to sell them and be sent to slaughtering companies by railroad, circa late nineteenth century. Offered to take charge of more than 3,000 heads of Longhorn cows in a ranch in Cuero, Texas and lead them to Dodge City, Kansas, he would normally be confident in achieving the task without losing any men or cattle on the journey, but only if it was not so late in the year. It is already September, and the chances of blizzards and bitter cold weather loom large on the horizon. Added trouble is an unexpected shoot-out with a crazy gunslinger on his way to the ranch in Cuero, which causes the dead gunman’s seven brothers to seek Indian Leader’s death in revenge. Arrival at the Star Ranch in Cuero reveals also that someone has been rustling their cattle and indeed even shot many of the hands, including the owner. His daughter, Serene, is now in charge and must sell the 3,000 head in order to prevent the local bank from calling in a loan by the following February. If she fails, the ranch her father spent fifty years building will be foreclosed and taken possession by the bank. Indian leader agrees to lead the drive, and a lost cowboy tradition is delightfully described in loving detail as the party progresses westward by horse and wagon to beat the deadline.

Told in an easy prose, the author’s skill lies in vivid characterization and believable dialogue. His modern language manages to easily evoke the thoughts and desires of the cowboys and ranchers of the pre-railroad days. The plot is rather tightly woven, with a number of unexpected twists, mostly based on realistic depictions of the post-civil war era’s relative lawlessness and reliance on gunplay and individualism in the American west. Many terms and facts of the cattle driving profession, such as remuda (i.e. herd of spare horses) to droving (i.e. moving livestock over large distances by walking them) are introduced. Even the unique behavior of Longhorn cattle is described. The theme has romantic elements, with peculiar cowboy codes of behavior and attitudes towards women and Native Americans discussed. The main character is romantically enthralled by his boss, the young woman Serene, who is cultured and educated. Plenty of gun plays and chases keep the pages turning, and the theme of good defeating evil is quite apparent and resounds with most Western novels, movies, and even television shows. A story situated somewhere between historical novel and traditional Western, it manages to entertain and educate at the same time.

Where’s My Wife
by Clark Selby
Trafford Publishing

“A bullet costs less than a partner.”

The title of Selby’s novel, Where’s My Wife, gives no indication that readers will be saddling up for a ride through the canyons of the Western genre. But if you decide to turn the pages, that’s what you’ll be doing. In the tradition of frontier tomes straddling the fence between the ending of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, this novel stakes its claim to a bit more of the former than the latter.

A former Texas Ranger, turned dime novelist with the quirky moniker of Rocky Stone, finds himself hoisted on his own petard when his wife is kidnapped by outlaws using the fictional plan he laid out in one of his earlier potboilers. Seems the exceedingly evil and ironically named Charlie Christian is not only out to strip Rocky of his pulp payola but he also wants an immense measure of revenge after the ex-lawman put him in the pokey. Charlie has a sociopathic habit of killing the women he comes in contact with, placing Rocky’s wife in particular peril. While paying the ransom is no guarantee of getting his wife back alive, the criminal-chaser turned storyteller has to revert to his original line of work if he has any chance of getting his wife back in one piece—and still breathing.

Authors Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour set the standard for the many Western novels that followed theirs. Even the prolific crime writer, Elmore Leonard, dabbled in the genre from time to time. It’s admirable to see today’s writers doing what they can to keep the Western alive. So if you aren’t averse to prose that tells you what it’s going to tell you and then tells you again, then mount up. Adventure awaits in Selby’s Where’s My Wife.