Morgan Mason has just arrived in Virginia City, Nevada (from San Francisco) to hopefully put his skills to use and find a job. Morgan is an assessor with a geology background and Virginia City has large cadre of millionaires thanks to some silver-rich mines in the area. But the one local assay office doesn’t want to take on anyone new and definitely doesn’t want any competition. Mason is feeling pretty down on his luck with alarm bells sound – there’s a fire in Virginia City!
Thanks to his knowledge of chemistry (important in being an assayer) Mason recognizes the signs of an arsonist-started fire and makes sure the head of the volunteer fire brigade knows. He is more convinced of it when more fires are lit up in the town over the next few days.
He manages to find a couple of lost kids and gets them to their mother (an attractive single woman [hmm, where could this be leading?]) who is grateful for his kindness. He rescues a minor from sure death in a fire, helps that minor uncover a large vein of silver, helps the miner fight off some would-be claim-jumpers (despite never having held a gun before), is asked to join one of the two competing volunteer fire-fighting units, and is instrumental in solving not only the mystery of the arsonist, but the single, largest silver heist in history.
Morgan Mason is the luckiest man in history. So lucky, in fact, that I was convinced that his incredible luck was going to be mentioned by other characters in the book and maybe even play a part in the story. But no, this was not played up as part of the storyline, which is unfortunate because it would definitely have helped me accept it more. If this was recognized and talked about and maybe even laughed at by the other characters in the book, I could laugh along with them. But simply as story with a too-much-good-fortune-to-be-believed character, I lost my willingness for disbelief.
Aside from the great good fortune at every turn for our main character, there’s simply too many plots and subplots for a fast-paced, action western.
We know Morgan Mason is our hero (oh boy do we know it!) so we’re ready to see we’re ready to see what trouble he gets into and out of as we follow his exploits. Is this going to be a story of Morgan and silver mining, complete with claim jumpers? Morgan and the arsonist? Morgan and the competing volunteer fire departments? Morgan and the silver heist? Morgan and the disbelieving sheriff? And a little romance tossed in with any one of those stories?
What would you say to ALL those stories in a book with fewer than 300 pages?
I’d say that any one of those themes, with a romance subplot, would be enough for one book. All of them means we don’t really spend any time anywhere to develop the characters or build interest in the plot. Which is what bothered me the most. It felt like action without plot. Just as I’d like a character or start to get interested in a theme, we’d be moved along to the next storyline.
Reading westerns is a guilty pleasure of mine, and I admit that when I read one I’m not looking to get too deep with story and themes. I want action and great characters. But what makes a character great isn’t just heroism and a lot of stupid luck – it’s the character’s flaws and how they overcome them to come out on top. Morgan Mason has no flaws that we can see and he doesn’t overcome obstacles to save the day – they just kind of glide off him when he’s around.
Looking for a good book? It’s hard to find good westerns in today’s market and Ralph Compton Flames of Silver by Jackson Lowry (and Ralph Compton – although he’s been dead for 22 years) is not the best example of western fiction on the shelves today.
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 Flames of Silver
author: Jackson Lowry and Ralph Compton
series: The Sundown Riders
publisher: Berkley Books
paperback, 288 pages