Retired Texas Ranger Captain Hank Tomlinson intends to spend the rest of his days raising cattle on his Broken Arrow Ranch, and nurturing his frontier town of Luck, Texas. But when the brutal murder and scalping of a mysterious drifter leads to a clash between cavalry soldiers and a band of Comanche Indians suspected of the killing, a full-scale Indian uprising seems likely. Worse yet, the murder of the drifter bears a disturbing resemblance to a string of killings Hank remembers from his distant and violent past as a Texas Ranger. Meanwhile, Hank's twenty-year-old son, Jay Blue, and his adoptive brother, Skeeter, find themselves on the trail of a valuable Kentucky mare who vanished under their watch. The trail leads them into the dangerous haunts of outlaws and vengeful Comanche warriors. Now Hank must attempt to keep his sons safe while trying to catch a murderer who he knows will soon strike again. His ace-in-the-hole is beautiful Flora Barlow, the tavern owner with a knack for detective work. Though rival lawman, Matt Kenyon, and competing rancher, Jack Brennan, complicate Hank's investigation, he and Flora slowly begin to uncover a crooked web of crime, deception, and murder. Dark secrets emerge, and everyone must choose sides as lawmen, outlaws, soldiers, and Indian warriors converge for a final, bloody confrontation.
Country music legend Nelson and novelist Blakely (Come Sundown) collaborate for this predictable western. When a rustler's body turns up on the open range outside Luck, Tex., with ghost arrows embedded in his chest, local rancher and retired Texas Ranger Hank Tomlinson's past returns to haunt him. Years earlier, three Rangers were killed by similar arrows, and many suspected Tomlinson at the time. News of the rustler's murder brings the son of one of the late Rangers, now a state police investigator, to Luck with an eye to avenging his father's death. Staying one step ahead of the law, Tomlinson races to solve the mystery and cheat the hangman. There's a wagonload of subplots (an Indian war, a prized mare's disappearance, an orphan searching out his parents, a barmaid's love story), and while rookie novelist Nelson and veteran Blakely write convincingly of the Old West, the plotting is cumbersome, the characters familiar and the dialogue strained. Nelson's legions of fans probably won't mind, though. (Sept.) ""
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September 02, 2008
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Excerpt from A Tale Out of Luck by Mike Blakely
HE CALLED HIMSELF, among other aliases, Wes James. Hunkered down now beside a fire of compact yet functional design, he made it a point to actually think of his name as Wes. The crucial thing here was to keep branding the current alias into his mind, as surely as he aimed to use his running iron, now heating in the coals, to do some quick branding of its own.
He whispered the assumed identity as he used a stick to pile gray-speckled orange coals over the tip of his running iron: "Wes James . . . The name's Wes James . . ." He glanced across the open top of the rocky hill where he had come upon the brindle yearling. As he turned the iron with his fingers, his wary hazel eyes swept the line of live oaks rimming the summit. He looked over his shoulder at his claybank cow pony, the gelding still keeping a taut rope on the lassoed brindle, the heifer securely hog-tied now on the ground.
"Howdy, ma'am, the name's Wes James."
The trick was never to react to one of the other aliases should some stock detective or brand inspector track him here to the limestone hills outside of the frontier town of Luck, Texas. In New Mexico, he had named himself Butch Smithers. He had styled himself Samuel Longstreet in Indian Territory. Elsewhere, he had variously announced his handle in saloons and recorded his identity in brand registration books as Joe Dudley, John Allen Roark, Shorty McDonald, Billy Ballard . . .
The alias was never random. It was always shaped around a brand Wes needed to register somewhere--a brand made by altering an existing brand on somebody else's livestock. Wes James--John Wesley James, to be more precise--was not without a measure of intelligence, a sense of creativity, and even a parcel of pride. What he lacked was ambition. He had no vision of the future, other than where he might find his next bottle of whiskey or woman of soiled virtue. His given name? The name of a father he never met? The name his mean stepdaddy had forced him to adopt? None of them mattered more than a plug of chew to one Wes James.
He looked up at the wisp of branding-fire smoke trailing off at an angle and dissipating into the slate gray of the evening sky. His identity here would fade like that smoke trail. He fanned it thinner with his hat. He didn't want anyone to see the smoke any more than he wanted to remember his past or visualize his future.
Wes James had gotten caught only once doctoring brands, in Omaha. Lucky he was caught in town, instead of out on the range where he would have been shot or lynched on the spot. Hard labor, mean guards, and meaner convicts were the consequences of carelessness that he didn't intend to suffer again, though he had fared better than men of lesser grit. Wes was six feet tall, lean, broad-shouldered, and tough. He wasn't given to violence, preferring to escape clean rather than fight his way out of a bind, but he could take care of himself, and would, with fists or firearms, if pressed into a corner.
He felt heat creeping up the running iron--a simple, straight rod no bigger around than his little finger. With it, he could "run" a brand with the same deft hand he often used to forge bogus bills of sale. He had employed this particular running iron for years--a short model that, after it cooled, slipped into a hidden pocket of his saddlebag. He knew from experience that when this end of the iron began to scorch his leathery palm, the business end was plenty hot enough to transfer possession of one brindle heifer to Wes James's ill-gotten ownership.
He lifted the iron from the coals and rose from his crouch, his knees and back aching a bit. Again his eyes swept his surrounds. He kicked some dirt on the coals, then hastened to the hog-tied brindle, the red-hot tip of his running iron leading the way, taking on the same shade as the setting sun.
The claybank was still leaning back on the rope. Too bad he couldn't keep this pony. He was a real good one. But Wes James never rode the same horse or wore the same crease in his hat for very long. The brindle thrashed on the ground as Wes approached, but the piggin' string held tight around the two hind legs and the left forefoot, and soon the beast rolled her eyes back in her head and lolled out her tongue in bovine stupefaction.
This was the moment of highest risk for a brand doctor--a rustler of beeves who specialized in modifying existing brands. It was impossible to explain away the act of doctoring another man's brand. Once altered, however, he would have his own brand registration papers showing title to the new design of the brand. No one would have reason to believe it had ever been altered. And, just to make sure no one saw the old brand in the new one, Wes would trail his rustled beeves far away to Jacksboro to sell to some unwitting British investors who had bought a large chunk of the Texas free range near there.