Lewis B. Patten (1915-1981), began his writing career in the 1940s. His first novel, “Massacre at White River”, was published in 1952. It was the first of more than 90 western novels, three of which won Golden Spur Awards. “Vengeance Rider”, the subject of this review, was originally published by Berkley Medallion in 1962. Since then the novel has been reprinted multiple times with different covers.
Despite the lack of witnesses or evidence, rancher Ross Logan was convicted of killing his wife Ruth. Logan was sentenced to 15 hard years in prison. In Patten's opening pages, Logan is released from confinement after serving his full sentence. From high atop Cheyenne Ridge, Logan looks down at his condemner, the small town of Vail and what was originally his sprawling Horseshoe Ranch. He is determined to locate Ruth's killer and seek redemption from his former friends and peers. But as we quickly learn, the town has no interest in Logan's proclamation of innocence. They have simply moved on.
Out of money, food and supplies, Logan goes to work for the new operator of Horseshoe Ranch, a brutal man named Caine. Smitten with Caine's much younger wife, Lily, Logan begins earning just enough money and food to bide some free time to investigate Ruth's murder. Patten's panel of suspects seems promising: town founder Tobias Vail, judge Millburn and Logan's longtime friend Phil – all who have vested interests in Horseshoe Ranch.
The most likely suspect is Millburn, who was Logan's attorney 15-years ago. After Logan's conviction, Millburn sold the neglected Horseshoe Ranch cheaply to Caine to raise enough money for Logan's legal fees. But, after investigating the books, Logan learns that Millburn had Caine quickly sell the ranch back to him. Could Millburn have set the whole thing up to acquire the ranch for pennies on the dollar?
Determined to prove Millburn is the culprit, Logan begins to connect the dots while secretly meeting with Lily. Soon, Logan finds that's he's under arrest for yet another murder – Caine's! On the run from a posse and the law, Logan now must find who has killed Ruth and Caine or face the gallows.
I can never provide enough praise for Lewis B. Patten. I've now read a handful of his western novels and all of them have been top notch. While never overly violent, Patten is a bit more subdued with “Vengeance Rider”. Here, the author uses a popular crime fiction element – the convicted defending their innocence – and places it in the harsh American West. Brimming with fights, romance and the thrill of the chase, Patten's “Vengeance Rider” works exceptionally well as both a western and a crime novel. Read it, you'll love it!
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