By Gordon L. Rottman
Taliesin Publishing, December 2013
Out of work cowpoke Bud Eugen comes across Marta, a mute sixteen-year old Mexican girl whose family has been killed by Indians. Bud reluctantly takes her along, even though he’s never had to accommodate another person in his simple life. He’s unable to find anyone willing to take her. In spite of his prejudices, Bud grows to like the spunky girl (and her excellent cooking).
Eventually, they both find work on a border ranch. Here, the relationship between the girl and the young cowboy hesitantly grows. But banditos raid the ranch, kidnapping the rancher’s daughters and Marta. Bud, with twelve other men, pursue the banditos into the most desolate reaches of Mexico. Ambushes and battles with banditos, Rurales, and traitors are constant, and the brutal weather is as much a threat as the man-made perils. Life and death choices are made at every turn as one side gains the advantage, then the other.
The rancher’s daughters are rescued, and the exhausted party turns back. But Bud presses on alone, against insurmountable odds – determined to fulfil an unspoken promise to Marta.
One of the strengths of this excellent story is the characterization of Bud, Marta, and others that will have you caring about them almost immediately you meet them. Marta is a superb case in point; you soon forget she is mute as she gets her feelings over so well through expression and actions.
The story is told in the first person through Bud and his growing attachment to Marta is beautifully told. When she’s kidnapped his feelings really become evident and he’ll do anything to get her back, even take on superior odds by himself if that’s what it’ll take to save her.
I saw somewhere that the author says this book is a western romance with a body count of around eighty; that sure sums the story up better than I ever could.
The action sequences are described well, not glorifying the brutality of them, but not holding any punches either. Marta’s skill with a shotgun is used to devastating effect too. The final frantic run to safety is filled with tension and brings the story to a memorable conclusion.
The Hardest Ride is Gordon Rottman’s first western and it’s not difficult to see why this book won Best Western Novel in the 2014 Peacemaker Awards, and I have no hesitation in recommending it as it’s right up there with the best westerns I’ve read this year.
To be released as a paperback in late July and as an audio book later in the year.