It is 1871 and 16 year-old Sam Tollin is helping his father cut trees in the Pecos River Valley. His 13 year-old sister Sarah is helping her mother inside the family's cabin. Out of nowhere, a band of Native Americans, and white men, ride onto the property and guns start blazing. In a heroic display of parenthood, Sam's mother and father agree to stay behind and sacrifice themselves to buy time for Sam and his sister to ride off. Thankfully, they get away, but the duo is quickly separated and Sarah is taken by Mexican bandits.
Sam's journey, and the bulk of the book's narrative, transforms into a long rescue mission. However, to get Sarah back, Sam agrees to join a heist crew that is headed to California to steal horses and/or mules. Why is he headed to California instead of Mexico? The heist crew originally plans to kill Sam, but he agrees to join their crew to stay alive. In doing so, Parker strengthens the book's story with an additional element of boy-becomes-man, or the end of innocence. Sam learns the way of the gun and the differences between right and wrong while committing crime.
The Searcher is similar to a Louis L'Amour traditional western tale with its premise of youngster growing into manhood after a violent encounter and then skirting the edges of criminality in an effort to regain what is lost. It is mostly enjoyable, but at 220-pages I found it to be longer than it needed to be. I'm not a fan of cattle-drive westerns and the travels between point A and B seemed extremely long and mostly dull. The action scenes at the beginning and end were great, but getting there was a bit cumbersome. Parker's injections of little tidbits of frontier knowledge were real highlights to me.
Overall, The Searcher is a good western story, albeit with less action than I typically desire. Parker continues to be enjoyable and I'm happy that I have at least 18 more of his novels to enjoy.
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