The book begins with protagonist Rafe Caradec (last name Covington in the film), a soldier-of-fortune,gambler, journeyman, aboard a ship bound for San Francisco. His friend Charles Rodney has just been beaten nearly to death by the notorious ship captain. In his dying breath, Rodney reminds readers, and Caradec, that he paid a businessman named Barkow the money owed for his Wyoming ranch. Rodney has paperwork that he has left for Caradec to deliver to his widow, Ann. Then, Rodney dies, and Caradec and some fellow shipmates escape the vessel and head to Wyoming to deliver the news.
When Caradec arrives in the small Wyoming town of Painted Rock, he discovers that Ann has been fed a lie by a group of businessmen who all have a reason to own Rodney's ranch. First, they advise her that the ranch wasn't paid for. Second, they have explained to her that her husband was killed by a Sioux war party a year earlier. When Caradec attempts to explain the truth to Ann, she refuses to listen to his “lies”.
The plot propels as Caradec, in a quest to uphold his promise to Rodney, must fight the businessmen responsible for the corruption and lies. There's Barkow, now Ann's fiance, along with another vile villain named Dan Shute and the obligatory hired gunmen that murder anyone disputing Painted Rock's form of justice.
Crossfire Trail is an expanded version of a short-story called "The Trail to Crazy Man", originally published in the July, 1948 issue of West (under a pseudonym of Jim Mayo). There's plenty of action, fisticuffs, fast-draws, and a love interest that anchors the narrative firmly in the “traditional old-west formula”. While it was predictable with the familiar L'Amour trope of “gunman protects widow and ranch”, the writing was superb as always. There's nothing to dislike about Crossfire Trail and I thoroughly enjoyed the banter between Caradec and his friends. As an added bonus, there is a side-story of Caradec rescuing a young Sioux woman, a plot point that serves dividends later.
If you love traditional western storytelling, chances are you've probably already read Crossfire Trail. If not, I recommend it as your next cowboy yarn.