A Sky So Big
Ransom Wilcox and Karl Beckstrand
DESCRIPTION: Patricia Laughlin came to Nevada to oversee the family holdings and locate two missing relatives: her father and her uncle. Instead, she meets
Bridger Calhoun, her father's partner in the K-Bar ranch - a man whose charming smile hides many secrets. It isn't long before she hears the name Wade Forrester, a
notorious rogue not above putting lead in a man's back, who seems to have it in for the Laughlins and Calhoun. She herself witnesses the man's cowardice, when
he refuses to draw in a fair fight with Bridger. With a snake like that lurking in the hills, trouble is sure to come to the K-Bar, and Patricia.
Wade Forrester left his father on less-than-civil terms when his wanderlust got the better of his youthful spirit... but he returned as fast as he could when he heard
that the old man had vanished. Worse, his sister Julia was utterly insensible - after signing over the deed to the family's K-Bar ranch to her swindling husband, the
lady-charmer Bridger Calhoun. Now Calhoun's buying up all the land in the area, with gold or lead, all in the name of his unseen master Pat Laughlin. For what they've
done to his family, they've both earned a bullet from his gun... if he can survive the gauntlet of hired goons swarming the Nevada wilderness after his hide.
When Wade meets Patricia, it's hate at first site - especially when he abducts her from her hotel room as insurance. But it won't be long before they discover that
they have more in common than they realize... including an enemy ready to crush the land beneath his heel.
This title also includes Ransom Wilcox's short story "A Barn Full O' Proud", about a ranch boy's first love on four hooves.
REVIEW: This wasn't easy to rate, not helped by misbilling; this is not a "romance" in the modern sense of the word at all, being mostly a straight-up
Western tale. It also has an unusual pedigree. Ransom Wilcox was a writer born in the tail end of the Western era, a world of gunslinging outlaws and rival
landowners carving up the last bits of unclaimed frontier, while Karl Beckstrand is a modern author who "inherited" this unfinished manuscript. So, while the story itself
reads somewhat dated, populated with characters pushing dangerously close to genre cliches (especially the supporting cast), I can't fairly judge it by modern standards.
Wade's the standard wronged rogue, half-Mexican to boot, who gets a bad reputation despite only slinging lead when he's threatened, while Bridger Calhoun's a vicious
villain who hides behind Laughlin's name and a charming demeanor - one that completely fools Patricia for a while, until the rage breaks the surface. As for Patricia, once
she stops buying everything Calhoun and his smile sell her, she demonstrates more grit and guts than many Western heroines, and isn't nearly the deadweight that she could've
been. There are some sparks between her and Wade, but for the most part they're both too busy dodging bullets to navigate the thorny brush of lies and skewed truths that stretch between
them. When Wade and Patricia aren't trying to survive treks over the Sierra Nevada mountains, they're dodging lead and losing horses; I lost track of how many animals were run to death or caught in the crossfire, so horse-lovers be warned.
For that matter, the human body count's deep into the double digits, which is to be expected with the frequent gunfights and ambushes. Despite its flaws and plausibility
issues with some action sequences, not to mention a wandering omniscient narration and a few eye-rollingly over-the-top speeches and descriptions, it kept me reading for
quite a stretch, so it must've done something right. Though it nearly lost a half-star for the style, which tended to summarize (often in grandiose terms) what characters
felt or decided, not to mention a little speech just before the end by one of Wade's Native American friends that reeked of a morality Message, I gave it the benefit of the doubt. (It didn't hurt that I
enjoyed the short story.)
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