Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Guns of Sapinero by Peter Brandvold writing as Frank Leslie (Colter Farrow series)

The past can catch up with a man. That's what happened to Trace Cassidy, who was a gunslinger before he settled down to ranch life with his childhood sweetheart. But as The Guns of Sapinero opens, Trace isn't enjoying family life: in fact, he isn't enjoying life at all.

Trace is screaming in pain because he's been laid out like a cowboy Christ and nailed to the bottom of his wagon bed, which is being led by homebound horses as a message to his family. Futilely, he tries to fight off the buzzards, who don't seem to care that he's not quite dead....

After the body is taken care of, Trace's widow Ruth asks their eldest, adopted 16-year-old son Colter Farrow to find the killers and settle up. ("Only [blood] can settle a score like this. And you're every bit as much his blood as [I am].") But Colter is just a drover. He can shoot, but his ideas of how to handle "bad guys" come from the few dime novels he's read.

In no way is Colter Farrow prepared for what lies ahead of him. He's going to follow through — otherwise he can't go back home. He's also going to find out some things about his father that he'd rather not have known. But revenge changes a man. And Colter is going to find that it's the kind of situation that can scar you for life.

Frank Leslie is the pseudonym of author Peter Brandvold, who is one of our best living Western writers. He is always original and surprising. The Guns of Sapinero is the first in a new series from the Leslie brand, whose Yakima Henry books have been well received. (The sequel, The Killers of Cimarron, comes out in June.)

The Guns of Sapinero is a terrific portrait of a boy becoming a man purely through necessity. Farrow is smart enough to know what is expected of him, and it's fascinating to watch him "practice" killing some bank robbers in preparation for meeting his father's killers. This becomes useful, especially as the people of Sapinero (or at least an important few of them) are resistant to Colter's finding out any more about the murder. Luckily, Colter finds help from unexpected corners.

Unlike most modern Westerns, The Guns of Sapinero is not a quick read. This is simply because there's no filler; you must pay attention to every word, or you'll miss something. It is also much darker than Peter Brandvold's other series. ("Western noir" doesn't even begin to describe it.)

In an interesting narrative example of this, Colter actually comes face to face with Lou Prophet and notices the wide chasm between the two men, wishing he had Prophet's easy confidence and skill. But Farrow will find he is more than man enough to do what's required of him.

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