By Matt Cole
The Crowood Press, July 2017
Raw hatred ravaged the range land!
Luke Bragg – a man with a dark past – has come to claim the sheep ranch his uncle left for him. Only once he arrives in Preston Gulch, Bragg soon finds himself in the middle of a range war with the valley’s two biggest cattle ranchers. This clash of interests, which Bragg tries to avoid, just escalates and he is the one the town thinks is the reason why. The cattlemen try to bolster their position by claiming that his sheep kill the grass by nibbling it too close and trampling the roots with their sharp hoofs. Then when the daughter of another rancher comes to town after the murder of her father, the truth about his murder sends the valley into chaos and threatens the empires that they had established with gunpowder.
This is Matt Cole’s third Black Horse Western and the first I have read. It is also the first BHW that I have read that begins with two poems. These are both about sheep and written by Arthur Chapman (June 25, 1873 – December 4, 1935). They set the mood for the book perfectly.
Matt Cole has created a great set of characters and surrounds them with mystery, the main one being who killed the rancher Flynn and why. There is also some mystery as to Luke Bragg’s past. All this grabbed my attention and encouraged me to read more.
There is plenty of action, and Bragg soon proves he’s a capable man when it comes to gunplay. Slowly the truth behind the murder is revealed and desperate men take drastic measures to keep their part in the killing hidden. Bragg has to be silenced, permanently, and a hired gun is brought in to do this which leads to an interesting proposition.
The story builds well to its violent final showdown where the truths are exposed and western justice is served, and all the story threads are tied up neatly. The final lines leaving me grinning and thinking it’s about time I caught up with Matt Cole’s two previous books.