Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Unwanted: Dead or Alive (Gene Shelton)

Unwanted: Dead or Alive
(The Buck and Dobie series, Book 1)
Gene Shelton
Pecos Press
Fiction, Western
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Cowboys Buck Hawkins and Dobie Garrett may not be famous or wealthy or even particularly intelligent, good-looking, or ambitious, but they do all right for themselves. At least they have a good job with an honest boss in the Texas Panhandle, roping strays and tending livestock for the modest Singletree ranch... or they used to. Just when the region's being hammered with the hardest winter in memory, an overstuffed pig of a banker turns up to foreclose on the property, and that's just the start of their troubles. A fight with a drunkard leaves the other man dead, and false accusations of horse theft and cattle rustling put a price on their head. It was hard enough finding a job in a changing frontier - now they can't show their heads in town without someone trying to shoot it off. While Buck wonders how long it'll take to be hung, Dobie comes up with the perfect solution. If the world's forced them to ride the "owlhoot trail" anyway, he reckons, why not turn outlaw for real? It has to pay more than a cowboy makes these days - and maybe they can even get that banker pig back and help their old boss with the cash. There's just one problem with Dobie's plan: neither one of them could steal an egg from a chicken, let alone money from a bank.

REVIEW: This lighthearted Western takes a little while to find its stride, but once it does it's an amusing romp, full of spirited horses and fast getaways and colorful cowboy jargon in a trope-riddled Wild West. Buck and Dobie are close friends, and where Dobie leads Buck always follows, but they just plain aren't suited to the outlaw life; Buck's too nervous and kindhearted, and Dobie, despite his tough talk and more worldly experience, is better at (cow) pie-in-the-sky ideas than actually planning, let alone executing, a crime. They also have the worst luck a pair of cowpokes ever had. Nevertheless, they persevere, in part because Dobie insists they'll learn the trade eventually and in part because they really have no choice. About halfway through their efforts, they encounter Marylou, a sharp city girl looking for some excitement and adventure on the range. She becomes key to their minimal successes, a fun and unladylike addition to the duo's dynamics. It all builds up to their great moment of revenge - which, naturally, goes completely haywire when real outlaws become involved. There's nothing hugely deep or original or startling here, but it makes for a fun, quick read.

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Vengeance Road (Erin Bowman) - My Review
Six-Shooter Tales (I. J. Parnham) - My Review
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