Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Trailsman #256 - High Country Horror

This ‘Trailsman’ adventure, “High Country Horror” (James Reasoner as Jon Sharpe), starts out being a wilderness survival story, as Skye Fargo meets a wagon train of settlers in serious trouble. They’ve been deceived by their guide, who steered them into the mountains far from the Oregon Trail before robbing and abandoning them just as the first blizzard of winter arrives. These opening chapters are superb, and they were so promising that I was a little disappointed that the book soon changes course. 

Instead of a Donner Party drama of hunger and slow death, we find Fargo leading the settlers to the shelter of an abandoned fort, where the crooked guide re-appears with his well-armed outlaw gang and terrorizes them all over again, though Fargo does his best to help. Amid this action are interludes with a death-dealing Sasquatch-like figure known as the Lost River Lurker, who appears from time to time to attack people before mysteriously disappearing. 

These narrative pieces don’t necessarily fit together perfectly, but the author’s gifts for atmosphere and suspense make it all work. The story concludes with a strong confrontation scene and then, as if to place a cherry atop the sundae, there’s a surprise twist. But that twist didn’t make much sense to me. I won’t give anything away, but the revelation we get is a bit hard to believe. Sometimes a sundae doesn’t need a cherry, and I think the novel would have been better had it ended half a page sooner. But overall, this was a gripping novel and the Lurker really helps it stand apart from the roughly 400 other ‘Trailsman’ stories.