High June: Reading Sanctum #12

Yee haw! Giddy up little dogies. Hello, everyone! We are getting into the swing of High June: our month-long celebration of the Western as a genre, and today’s post is a Reading Sanctum spotlighting the West of the Big River series Box Set available now on Amazon for 99 cents. The compilation contains eight novels written by eight different acclaimed authors of western content calling themselves fictioneers for the fictional portrayals of historical figures of the Old West.

The Box Set contains nearly 1000 pages of action-packed story mixed with biographical information that firmly situates the legendary figure into a realistic western milieu. In the most capable hands of these authors, the legendary figures become real people with real hopes, needs, and expectations. Although the larger historical facts are well-known, the intimate details are conveyed in an authoritative way.

The Lawman by James Reasoner is a short, fast-paced, western novel loosely based on the life of “Lawman” Bill Tilghman, who was not just a sheriff, but also served as town marshal and U.S. deputy marshal. The story revolves around the marshal being sent to the town of Burnt Creek to investigate outlaw cattle rustlers only to find that his job is complicated by the fact that the town sheriff and the mayor are brothers of Cal Rainey, the chief cattle rustler.

The novel is well-written, immediately engaging, with a simple plot, believable characters, cinematic action, and a hope-filled love story. It has pretty much everything you want in a western. 

The Avenging Angel is a well-worn western trope that is informed by the Mormon faith, which also has a rich tradition in the western genre. In this novel by Michael Newton, he fictionalizes an account of Deputy United States Marshal Orrin Porter Rockwell who not only served as marshal, but also served as the personal troubleshooter of Governor Brigham Young.

The story works really well at encapsulating religious motivation and rationalization of events and situating the occurrences in a historical context that is both sensitive and logical. The mining town of Tartarus is described in a way that makes it seem remarkably similar to frontier towns that western fans might find familiar. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this western that adopts the perspective of Mormons being the good guys. More often, the Mormons are the villains.

 The Artist is a story about Charlie Russell who was a Montana cattle rancher and storyteller. He could also draw, and paint. In this unique western novel, Charlie must brave the coldest winter ever while riding in pursuit of cattle rustlers that are swiping cattle from all the properties on the range. When he sees the neighbor’s daughter and discovers that she is in love with one of the thieves, things get complicated because his boss has tasked him to help the sheriff capture the cattle rustlers. Good western. However, not of the caliber of the previous books.

The Ranger is the fourth book of the West of the Big River series. The author writes about Texas Ranger, Sgt. J. S. Turnbo, a real-life historical figure of the Wild West, who in this fictionalized account is chasing bank robbers that killed a deputy sheriff.

Turnbo was on the way to San Angelo in the performance of his duty when the stagecoach is stopped by robbers. The deputy is killed in the ensuing gun battle. These thieves are no longer just thieves, but killers too. Turnbo is then embroiled in a mystery that looks like it may all just be one case. However, there is much more to this mystery than just a series of bank robberies.

The narrative is a svelte 186 pages. Quick-paced and action-oriented wording propels the story. Pretty much all you want from a western, but a little wanting in the mystery aspect. (The killers are pretty obvious.) Still and all, pretty satisfying.

The Forty-Niners is the fifth novel of the West of the Big River series penned by various authors; Charlie Steel writes this one. Of the entire series so far this is the best. Because these novels are fictionalized historical narratives, it is important to examine these tales in light of the historical milieu rather than as true, verifiable data.

Here, with the historical backdrop of the California goldrush, a slave and a widow create opportunities for themselves as invented new creations. The characters feel real. The tale is believable. The historical landscape is painted well, allowing a reader’s imagination to soar with the characters. The threats feel real, and they are communicated in a succinct manner. This is a quick, fast-paced read. Thoroughly enjoyed this one.

The Bandit by Jerry Guin is a fictionalized historical novel, part of the West of the Big River series taking the escapades of several lesser-known figures of the wild west and expounding on their legend. In this story, the outlaw Sam Bass is featured illustrating his path from lowly orphan to accidental outlaw to big-time thug that meets his justified end.

The story, as almost all of the stories in the series is quite compelling. Anyone interested in western lore and history would find these novelizations engaging. Jerry Guin provides a quick-paced, well-propelled tale that is believable and logical.

The Doctor by Clay More is one of the stronger entries in the West of the Big River series. In this story, the focus is on Dr. George Goodfellow, legendary Tombstone surgeon and scientist that notably tended to the participants at the OK Corral gunfight. He was a friend of the Earps, Doc Holliday, and several other doctors.

He studied and developed surgical and forensic techniques which propelled him into inventing a bulletproof vest made of silk. He examined Gila monster poison which actually helps him solve a mystery embedded in the plot. There is some really good work here in taking objective historical data and transforming it into a vibrant, exciting, believable mystery western narrative. 

The final novel collected in the West of the Big River compilation is a tale called The Sheriff by Chuck Tyrell. Commodore Perry Owens was a long-haired cowboy with a badge. There’s a reason he wore his hair long that I will not divulge here. You can find out for yourself. This is one of the top novels in this set. They are all fast-paced novels. This one reads more like a biography because CP (as he is called in the book) granted interviews to reporters where he would communicate the day-to-day occurrences almost right after the incidents would occur.

Listen, now that things are gradually getting back to normal, I know that you will not have as much down time as you have had up until now. Reading, for me has provided a source of mental health throughout the pandemic. It has taken me away from the isolation and the natural despair of feeling alone. I have thoroughly enjoyed this set and it really is only 99 cents on Amazon Kindle. If you love reading westerns, do yourself a favor and pick this up. It will immerse you in yesteryear and take you away from the craziness of today.

As always, I thank you for reading my stuff. See you later. Take it easy. And peace.

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