William W. Johnstone wrote this sixth book for his 'The Last Mountain Man' series in 1989. It was originally released on Pinnacle and featured far more superior artwork than the later editions that are fairly common on store shelves. I am assuming the original artwork is viewed as somewhat dated so the publisher opted for "timeless" cover art depicting black and white towns or simply the profile photo of cowboy and his horse. From the few fans I've spoke with, they feel the new "updated" artwork leaves plenty to be desired. Regardless the publisher has treated the entire series this way and I think it really detracts from the series.
The novel begins with a really inviting premise. Smoke Jensen is holed up in a cave and explains to the reader that he is being hunted by a group of men. The backstory tells us how Smoke arrived in this precarious situation. His wife Sally has her family in town from back east. During the visit the baby acquires a lung issue and the doctors urge the family to go to Arizona for a few months due to the dryer air there. Smoke decides to hang back and work his ranch in Colorado. After a few days of bachelorhood he gets the call of the wild and heads into the mountains for some action.
After a hard ride he ends up at a saloon where typically a fight happens, Smoke kills or injures someone and then the gang of goons he wrangled with are after Smoke. Damned if it doesn't happen right on cue. Smoke scuffles with a land baron named Jud Vale and lays him out with an iron fist. Smoke is accused of being a Box T rider and he finds this to be an interesting accusation and rides onto a local farm to figure out what's going on. It's typical of the series to find Smoke aiding two farmers in a cattle war with the local baron. The end result is Smoke, farmers, an old cowboy and some kids fighting back against Jud Vale and his hired guns. It's all been done to death but this one has enough action and fast pace to be one of the better books of the series thus far.
There are two really good portions to this book. The first is the introduction of a character named Matthew. I'm not totally sure this is the same Matt Jensen that shows up in Johnstone's book series of the same name but all of the signs are here. Smoke adores the kid and sees that he is terror with a gun. Much like Smoke being raised by Preacher, Matthew is trained by an old cowboy named Cheyenne. Here Matthew has parents and is a young man. Somewhere along the way I know that Smoke adopts a son named Matt and it could be this kid. Time will tell. The second part is a tremendous firefight in the mountains with Smoke facing a dozen bounty hunters. This isn't an unusual battle and Smoke has had plenty, however the author spends time on positioning, amounts of ammo and really sets up an intense conflict that sucks the reader into the gun smoke. It's really well done.
Overall this is just another Smoke Jensen western and ranks fairly high in the book series thus far. I think Johnstone really came into his own in terms of depicting gunfights and conflict. Unfortunately, the plot and numerous bar fights are enough to leave you wanting a bit more out of these western tales.
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