Picture from "The Library Dragon" by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrations by Michael P. White

"Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist.
Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed."
- G. K. Chesterton

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

WESTERN -- The Rattlesnake Season by Larry D. Sweazy

(Book # 1 of the Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger series.)

I first heard about Larry Sweazy and his Texas Ranger series on a local NPR broadcast. He was being interviewed regarding the second book in the series The Scorpion Trail which had just won the 2011 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction and the 2011 Best Books of Indiana literary competition in the fiction category. While I have never considered myself a big fan of Westerns, I was intrigued by the fact that Sweazy currently resides in my home town of Noblesville. Consequently, when I decided I wanted to read and review a Western, Sweazy was my first choice. While The Scorpion Trail was the more critically acclaimed of his novels, I knew I’d have to start at the beginning with The Rattlesnake Season since I can’t stand starting in the middle of any series.

The Rattlesnake Season serves as an introduction to the character of Josiah Wolfe. Wolfe is haunted by memories of the violence he participated in during the Civil War. He has also suffered the traumatic loss of his daughters, from influenza, followed swiftly by his wife, in childbirth. With a young son to support, he accepts an offer from his former commander, Captain Hiram Fikes, to rejoin the Texas Rangers. His first duty is to assist Fikes in transporting a former colleague, Charlie Langdon, to trial. When Langdon escapes and Fikes is killed, Wolfe ends up escorting the Captain’s body home and in the process meets Fikes’ daughter, wife, and favorite prostitute, Fat Sally (who he names his horse after.) He also discovers just how far Langdon will go for revenge.

It took me a while to warm up to Wolfe who, in typical Western fashion is both a loner and ultimately a hero. Sweazy takes time in developing this character so that by then end of the book I felt a genuine connection with him. Most of the major characters are well rounded and believable although I Fat Sally was a bit of a stretch. This beautiful Mexican woman, supposedly Captain Fikes’ favorite prostitute, serves Wolfe a fantastic meal and then beds him (for free!) because she’s grateful for his service to her favorite customer, Fikes? I don’t think so! Still, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Sally or the captain’s daughter, who is definitely set up to appear in future books. While there was a bit too much detail for my taste, Sweazy’s lyrical descriptions add to the strong sense of place – Texas in the 1870s – and the overall mood of the story. While there is definitely violence, it is not extremely graphic. The same can be said of the one sex scene. In fact, the book could almost be classified as a “Gentle Read” and it contains much less profanity than I image I would have heard in the true old West.

All in all, found the book to be an easy and ultimately enjoyable read and I actually think I’ll continue on with the series when I have time. Now that I have a connection with the character of Wolfe and some background on his life and the people in it, I’m actually rather looking forward to reading the award winning second book even though I’m not usually a fan of Westerns.

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