Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Strong Ambitions

By GP Hutchinson
January, 2018

Tiny, yet prospering Benficklin, Texas, wants a clean, respectable town marshal to safeguard their pristine community from the kind of riffraff that turned neighboring Santa Angela into a raucous string of blood-spattered saloons and bawdy sporting houses. Former Texas Ranger Emmett Strong seems to be just the man Benficklin’s town fathers are looking for, once they’re satisfied that his Chinese wife, Li, is “sufficiently civilized.”

Reputations aside, Benficklin—not Santa Angela—is the town with the next scandal on its hands, when the ravaged body of a young, murdered Mexican girl is found lying in the middle of Main Street.

Initial signs suggest hard-drinking cowboy Quirt Langdon may have done the deed. Emmett, however, senses that things aren’t exactly as they appear. Nearby Fort Concho’s Captain Roderick Prentiss seems peculiarly interested in what is clearly a civilian case. And Santa Angela’s most eccentric resident gambler, Nate Chaffin, gives the impression he knows things he’s not telling. To top it all off, two of Benficklin’s leading citizens end up assassinated in their own backyard.

While local officials pressure Emmett to hastily hang either a suspect or a scapegoat, honor drives the former Ranger to seek true justice for the poor murdered girl, as well as for the two prominent citizens. Ill-tempered townsfolk, pilfered evidence, and somebody taking potshots at him and his wife make Emmett wonder whether he’ll live to unravel the mystery or become the next corpse folks find in the dusty streets of Benficklin.

Like the first two excellent books in this series, this one also sees racial prejudices playing an important part in the story, something the author handles sensitively, yet still reflects the biases of the time the story is set without pulling any punches.

GP Hutchinson has come up with a terrific set of characters and once the murdered Mexican girl is discovered the author manages to place an air of suspicion over the majority making me wonder as to just who did the killing and why. So, this novel is a murder mystery set in the West, yet it never loses the feel of being a western.

The pacing is superb, as Strong has to deal with a series of set-backs and attempts on his life before the story reaches its shocking culmination. There’s plenty of brutal action and plot twists that made this a page-turner. 

You don’t have to have read the previous books to enjoy this one, as like the other two each stands well on its own. I do feel, though, that once you’ve read one of them you’ll be wanting to read the others. 

When the first book came out it was announced there would be two more. Now they have been published I hope it doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of Emmett Strong as I for one would like to read more, so let’s hope GP Hutchinson has plans for another.

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