This is EXACTLY what I want to read when I pick up a book of western fiction.
U.S. Marshall for the Arizona territory Ed Frost, gets the drop on Tom Clay – a wanted murderer and member of the infamously nasty Clay family. Locking Tom Clay up in the town jail, Frost sends a wire to Judge Barnes, the federal judge in Jessup and asks him to come and try Tom Clay. Tom Clay murdered Judge Barnes’ daughter. But Barnes wires back that Frost needs to bring Tom Clay to the courthouse in Jessup.
Frost knows that the entire Clay family will be looking to free the young gun, Tom, as does everyone else in the territory and Frost has trouble rounding up a stagecoach to hire that will bring the lawman and his prisoner to meet the judge. The only coach will to take the trip is run by a salty old woman, Sally Strong, and her wild beast of a man partner, Emmitt Wallace. Sally will charge Frost a hefty fee and he’ll have to agree to her rules, but he has no other choice.
Frost will create a diversion to get the Clay clan chasing a decoy and moving in the wrong direction. But they will catch up to Frost, Sally, Emmitt, and Tom before they can reach their destination and they will have to hold up and take a stand inside a well-fortified station. Inside the walls of Hagman Station (known to travelers as “The Hangman”) Ed Frost learns that there is a squad of U.S. Army men in the station on a clandestine mission to catch some gun-runners.
On the surface, it might seem like the army would offer some needed guns against the Clay men, but Frost knows that with the army here, there are likely a dozen or more Comancheros outside the station, ready to join forces with the Clays in order to get inside.
Here’s what you get with a well-written western: good guys and bad guys and there’s no question about which one is which. The wild cards – those characters who are probably good guys but with a moral code that’s a little less clear. You have a goal (in this case, get the bad guy to his trial) and you have obstacle on top of obstacle on top of obstacle trying to stop the good guy from achieving his goal. And you get a lot of great shoot-’em-up action.
We get all of that here and what makes it really sing are the wild cards, Sally and Emmitt, and energy of the battles.
The cover of the book indicates that this is part of “The Sundown Riders Series.” I’m not sure who in this book represents “the Sundown Riders” r anything about the series. I do know that this is the second Terrance McCauley western I’ve read, and I really like his action-packed western fiction.
Looking for a good book? Ralph Compton’s Stagecoach to Hell by Terrance McCauley is exactly what good western fiction should be.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Ralph Compton Stagecoach to Hell
author: Terrance McCauley
publisher: Berkley Books
paperback, 304 pages