Captain Peter Joseph Kellerman was once a promising career soldier who’d proven his mettle in battle time and again. Now he’s fighting a battle with a whiskey bottle. He’s also in charge of Fort Benjamin Grierson, located west of hell, deep in Arizona Territory’s Mohawk Valley on the arid edge of the Yuma Desert. The men under his command aren’t fit to wear the uniform. Killers, thieves, and ravagers condemned to death but who’ve chosen to serve, holding down the hated Fort Misery.
Santiago Lozado, the most wanted bandit on both sides of the border, has set his sights on Fort Misery. He wants vengeance against Kellerman for killing his son and has raised an army of brutal Apache and Comancheros to slaughter every man wearing Union blue – only to encounter a wild bunch of desperate men unafraid of shedding blood and fighting to the death . . .
Johnstone brings together a captivating bunch of soldiers to face a much larger force of bandits and Apache in a story full of seemingly hopeless situations and disillusioned officers and troopers. Most of these characters imbibe in alcohol to see them through each and every day. When a clerical error sends a fresh-faced officer straight from West Point to the fort, he is aghast at the situation he finds himself in.
The author switches regularly between his cast of characters, be they soldiers or their enemy. This allows the readers to follow what each side is doing, how they are planning to attack or defend Fort Grierson and this also helps build reader anticipation for the assault on the fort. The bandits, scalpers and Apache all seem set on double-crossing each other too. Other people get involved in this battle as well; a couple of prisoners who’ve escaped from the prison wagon taking them to Yuma, and a marshal looking to track them down.
Action scenes are described superbly and they are often quite brutal in their depiction. The harsh landscape surrounding Fort Grierson is beautifully portrayed as are feelings of despair, nerve jangling tension, and hatred. Amongst all this the author injects many moments of humour, mostly found in conversation, adding some welcome relief to the deadly situations the soldiers find themselves in.
It would be unrealistic to expect all your favourite characters to come out of this unscathed. I also liked how the author wasn’t averse to killing off some of them too, making it impossible to predict who would be left alive by the end.
The last couple of chapters nicely set up what I assume will be the plot for the second book in the series and I’m looking forward to reading that with much anticipation.