by Robert J. Conley
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, October 2002
Originally published Doubleday, April 1992
His crime was choosing to stay alive. His fate was to pay with his life…
In the East, his people had lived on the land for thousands of years. Now it was a nation bitterly divided, and Nickajack had decided to leave it behind. But when his country’s broken heart came chasing after him in the West, he found himself with enemies he didn’t choose, forcing him to pick up an old, oiled pistol, and aiming at a stranger in self-defence. A reckoning had begun – as Nickajack faced a law that accused him of murder, and sealed his fate forever.
This is a powerful read. A book that deals with tragedy, that which befalls Nickajack himself and that of his tribe caught up in a political struggle based on corruption and the treatment of minority groups.
Robert J. Conley tells this story in prose that will be long remembered, his tale tears at the heart in its sadness. Much of the story is told in reflection as Nickajack remembers the events that have torn through the Cherokee Nation and swept him up in them, which have ultimately seen him on trial for murder. Make no mistake this is a hard-hitting tale of suffering and betrayal based around true events. The tone, as you’d expect, is dark and is beautifully paced as it builds up to its inevitable ending.
Robert J. Conley won a Spur Award for this novel and it’s easy to see why. It seems such a shame to me that very few readers of westerns mention him when discussing the genre. Conley seems to be a very overlooked writer, and on the strength of this book I’d say that many people have been missing out on some terrific reading. To those I say try this, I’m sure you’ll be impressed.