I made the email acquaintance of Western author Joseph A. West a while back, and since I try to read books by people I know, I picked up his 2006 novel SHOOTOUT AT PICTURE ROCK. Set in 1877, the book’s protagonist is Deputy U.S. Marshal John Kilcoyn, who works out of an office in Dodge City that he shares with Ford County Sheriff Bat Masterson. One of Kilcoyn’s old enemies, a former lawman turned outlaw, comes back to haunt the marshal by kidnapping Dodge City’s doctor and the doctor’s beautiful daughter, who, as it happens, Kilcoyn intends to marry. With the outlaw holding his hostages for ransom, Kilcoyn sets out to rescue them, along with Bat Masterson and a young Irish photographer who is new to the West.
Well, that’s enough plot for a book right there, you say. But no, Kilcoyn is also being hunted by a renegade Cheyenne war chief because he killed the chief’s son in battle. The marshal also has to deal with a family of crazed, perverted sodbusters who make a business of robbing and killing travelers, somewhat like the infamous Bender family. Oh, and did I mention that while all this is going on, there’s also a killer blizzard bearing down on Kansas?
I had a great time reading this book. West has the knack of piling more and more problems on his hero until the reader really has to wonder how he’s going to get out of it. SHOOTOUT AT PICTURE ROCK has a nice epic feel to it, even though the actual scale of the story isn’t really that large. There’s plenty of action, the characters are well-developed (including an interesting portrait of Bat Masterson, one of my favorite real-life Western characters), and there are some nice twists relating to who lives and who dies (not everybody you’d expect). This is an excellent traditional Western, and lucky for me West is a fairly prolific author, having written more than thirty novels so far with more to come. I plan to read more of his books very soon. (That's the large print edition of this one over in the Amazon box.)
Billy Joe Royal, R. I. P.
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