By Donald Hamilton
First published in 1956
Boyd Cohoon – cowman, jailbird, knife fighter – cam home to Mad River.
Waiting for him was a girl. As her father paid him to stay away, Cohoon saw the relief in her eyes.
There was her brother, who had done the crime for which Cohoon had gone to prison. Cohoon saw the fear in his eyes.
The mine owner who’d gotten rich off Cohoon’s land gave him a smile and slapped him on the back. Cohoon saw the deceit in his eyes.
There was the sheriff. They had been boys together. Cohoon saw the suspicion in his eyes.
So there was no home welcome for Boyd Cohoon. And Mad River saw the hatred in his eyes.
Donald Hamilton is perhaps better known for his Malt Helm spy series than his westerns which is a shame going by the strengths of this twisting tale of secrets and revenge. The latter storyline adding mystery to this tale as Cohoon attempts to find out who really killed his father and brother whilst he was in prison, and why. There’s more mystery too as to the identity of ‘The General’ and who is feeding him information from inside the town. And then there’s the woman who rides into Mad River on the same stage as Cohoon, what’s her story?
Character studies are excellent and dialogue snaps off the page with a hard edge. Action scenes are well described, particularly the ride down the river depicted on the cover shown. I really liked how Cohoon’s preferred weapon is a knife rather than a firearm making him a little different from the usual fast gun heroes of the majority of westerns.
Ok, some of the plot twists are easy to predict but you can never be quite sure which direction the tale will take you next. Hamilton’s writing is strong and riveting making this a very difficult book not to read in one sitting.
In my opinion Mad River is certainly a book worth tracking down.