by Thom Nicholson
Signet, May 2005
Martin Keller wasn’t always a bounty hunter whose infamy reached from Colorado Territory to Mexico. Only after the soulless Al Hulett murdered Keller’s wife and son did he turn to tracking killers. And any bounty he collects goes towards finding Hulett – and exacting some long-overdue vengeance….
When a wound holds Keller up, he must rely on the mercy of the townsfolk of Cimarron. For once, he can remove the blinders and take in the welcome sight of Caroline Thompson, the young widow nursing him back to health. After hearing how a black-hearted backshooter killed her man, Keller vows to find her enemy as well as his own – little knowing how close the two deadly trails will come….
Unlike many books that have a hero hunting for the killers of his family, this book doesn’t begin with those deaths, it begins with the wounded Keller riding into town and being chased out by a young lawman out to prove himself, who, like many others, sees bounty hunters as less than desirable people to have in his town. In fact this theme is touched on a number of times during the story.
Keller doesn’t come across as smart as might be expected for a hero, he is easily tricked by Caroline into tracking her husbands’ killers, falling for her feminine wiles.
In fact it’s Nicholson’s character studies that are the standout parts of this book, the fact that Keller isn’t the invincible hero that some westerns have as their lead character makes him easy to relate too. Keller also needs other people to help in his quest and here he teams up with one of Caroline’s ranch hands, JB, an ex-tracker for the Army.
The book can almost be divided into three parts, that of the recovery of Keller and the introductions to the main players in the story. This is follow by the middle part that sees Keller and JB hunting down Caroline’s husband’s killer which provides the link to the men Keller is after. The final part could easily be a book in itself, telling the story of Keller and JB finding out that his quarry has joined a bandit gang in Mexico, and of their help in defeating this small army and defending a Mexican ranch. It’s here Keller meets another woman, Isobel, who competes for his love against the memories of Caroline who he knows is waiting for his return.
There’s plenty of action, especially in the final part of the book, as the story moves in increasing pace to its end where all the loose threads are neatly tied up, leaving me looking forward to reading the further adventures of Martin Keller.