Friday, December 4, 2009

.45-Caliber Firebrand by Peter Brandvold (Cuno Massey Western series)

"Cuno Massey saw the Indian a quarter second before the arrow careened toward him from a snag of brush and sun-bleached rocks." That is the opening sentence of author Peter Brandvold's novel .45-Caliber Firebrand, and it offers a fitting introduction to the kind of life its hero leads.

Massey has had a rough year. First his father and stepmother were murdered. His .45-Caliber Revenge for that put a price on his head, and bounty hunters killed his new bride, July. His subsequent .45-Caliber Fury doubled the bounty.

Since then, the .45-Caliber Manhunt has continued. Though a successful venture into the freight-hauling business gave a much-needed break, it turned into a .45-Caliber Deathtrap when Massey's partner was killed.

Now, hauling supplies to Logan Trent's Double-Horseshoe Ranch, Cuno inadvertently smuggles weapons for the rancher, who has had trouble with Leaping Wolf's band of Ute Indians since a couple of ranch hands raped a killed a Ute girl. Massey and his crew stay on to defend the ranch until a trio a braves attempt revenge-in-kind with Trent's daughter Michelle.

While Trent stays to defend the homeplace, he asks the .45-Caliber Firebrand to help Michelle and a servant's children escape, using only a horse-drawn wagon and a secret passage. As Cuno reminisces (about events chronicled in .45-Caliber Widow Maker), "Recently, he'd found himself driving a jail wagon loaded with four deadly brigands, including one snarling beast known as Colorado Bob King, across the Mexico Mountains up Wyoming way.

"He'd thought he'd had his hands full then." In protecting his charges, Cuno makes a decision that puts him on the wrong side of the law (though not in the wrong, for rogue lawmen are no meters of justice). And When times are at their most desperate, Cuno gets help from a surprising corner.

With .45-Caliber Firebrand, Brandvold offers an action-packed Western filled with traditional genre tropes yet complex enough in its plotting to be difficult to summarize without possibly giving away some surprises. He keeps the pace quick as bullets and arrows fly and seemingly major characters are killed with impunity. (Brandvold also tips his hat to other writers with characters named after Karl Lassiter and Henry Kuttner.)

In fact, Cuno goes through so much physically and emotionally that the decision he makes at the end of .45-Caliber Firebrand hardly comes as a surprise — more as a relief. The reader hopes he'll get a chance to rest, at least for a little while.


David Cranmer said...

Sounds like the kind of year I've been having--without the death thankfully. The.45-Caliber name is badass for a continuing series title and I dig that opening line.

Craig Clarke said...

I've only read two of Brandvold's books so far, and he's already a favorite. Definitely check him out.

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