This book opens right in the middle of the action, a technique I always like, with brothers Justin and Ford Emery clashing over Justin’s wife Samantha, whom he suspects of having an affair with Ford. This rift, following a really brutal fistfight between the brothers, causes them to split up, Ford remaining on the ranch they own in Texas while Justin takes part of the herd and starts north for Dakota Territory.
As it turns out, that’s not a very smart move, because first the trail drive runs into a killer blizzard, and then a deadly menace from Samantha’s past unexpectedly shows up to threaten not only Justin and Samantha’s marriage but also their lives. And from there, things get even worse as the author, Dudley Dean McGaughey (who also wrote under the name Dean Owen and several other pseudonyms), really heaps on the trials and tribulations for the troubled couple.
This is a fine hardboiled Western novel with plenty of gritty action scenes and nice lines like describing a man as being “mean enough to braid his own hangrope”. For a Western published in 1963, there’s a lot of talk about sex, although all the actual bedding down happens off-screen, so to speak. Justin Emery is a really tough hero, absorbing an unusual amount of punishment but still coming back to take on his enemies. McGaughey was a consistently fine Western author, and I thoroughly enjoyed this particular example of his work.
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