Saturday, November 7, 2009

Longarm on the Goodnight Trail (Longarm #80) by Melvin Marshall writing as Tabor Evans (Western series)

From a tip by a former Texas Ranger, U.S. Marshal Billy Vail (himself a former Ranger) assigns Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long — better known as Longarm (as in "the long arm of the law") — to investigate a suspicious trail drive of Mexican longhorn steers traveling to Denver.

This case is full of questions: Who are the Arapahoe Cattle Syndicate and the mysterious Sterns who seems to be connected to them? Why are the steers being driven instead of shipped by rail? And why are they insured at $200 a head, with a $1,000 bonus to the trail boss for getting them all there?

The case is controversial too, though, so Longarm cannot investigate it in an official capacity — and if things go sour, he and Vail could both lose their jobs — so Longarm goes undercover, despite his newly wounded trigger finger, as a trail hand named ... Custis ("Not many folks know I even got a first name").

After a weak opening that suffers from too much information too fast, author Melvin Marshall (writing under the Tabor Evans house name) really hits his stride with the meat of Longarm on the Goodnight Trail — the eightieth in the long-running Longarm series. The scenes on the trail were exactly what I was looking for, having picked it up seeking a read similar to Ralph Compton's The Goodnight Trail with a mystery added.

But Longarm is instantly confronted by events and people that want to keep this drive from being a success, such as a tribe of Lipan Apache that do not want the steers to cross their land (resulting in a great hand-to-hand combat scene in a stream), a dwindling supply of grub with no hidetowns in sight, a sudden tornado, a flash flood, and even Charles Goodnight himself, who won't let any herds from Mexico or south Texas cross his land for fear of hoof-and-mouth disease. (Though he does offer an alternate route via the New Goodnight Trail.)

Those who read Longarm for the mystery will be disappointed: the solution doesn't play fair and is given short shrift in any case. But those looking for a fast-paced cattle-drive story — especially those who would normally give series Westerns a pass — should be pleasantly surprised. With author Melvin Marshall's attention to all the details inherent in such a venture, trail-drive novel enthusiasts would do well to pick up a copy of Longarm on the Goodnight Trail.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails