Maybe I’ve read too many books by Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour, but I like my western characters to be physically and emotionally tough. The Colton brothers meet the first criteria, but fall short in the second. They both experience horrible nightmares and flashbacks after being held captive by Cochise and tortured, and the difficulty that James has in dealing with the old west version of post-traumatic stress consumes the bulk of the first half of the book. Every time something triggers a memory, the incidents are relived with only slight variations. That repetition of the same information serves no purpose and delays the start of the action, which is too bad.

Set in Arizona Territory at the start of the Civil War, the Colton brothers–James, Trace, are joined by one of their other brothers, Andy, to fight the Rebs and the Apache’s as both threaten to take over the New Mexico Territory. James suffers the most from the earlier trauma of being tortured by the Apache’s and the loss of the woman he loved, and his daytime flashbacks often get him into trouble. After almost killing a sheriff, James is given a choice of joining the Union army or going to prison, so he opts for the army. 

Andy  also joins up to make sure James doesn’t hurt anyone else during one of his violent episodes. Trace, who is married, stays home. He seems better equipped mentally and emotionally to deal with the demons from his traumatic experience at the hands of the Indians, but faces his own challenges when a Confederate officer takes over the town.

There are plenty of fans of western novels who enjoy a good yarn, and this one could have satisfied that need had it been written in more of the “Western” style. The men in this book talked a lot. And they mentally processed a lot. And they told each other the things that were heavy on their hearts. That kind of behavior is not even common among men today, let alone men of the old west.

Women talk, and share, and seek each other out for counsel and comfort. Not men. Consider some of the classic stories about the old west. The heroes rarely had much to say. What made characters  like Shane  so powerful is the fact that the audience did not know much about his troubled past, only that he had one. So a big part of the interest stemmed from wondering what had happened prior to him arriving at the ranch, where he becomes a father-figure to a young boy.

Arizona War would have been a better read if it had followed the lead of great classics like Shane and had focused more on the action and less on the emotional reactions. On the positive side, however, the descriptions are vivid, and the narrative is smoothly written. The people and places in this book come alive with those deft descriptions.

The book is being released through the University of New Mexico Press,  unmpress, which is noted for publishing quality western fiction. And Melody Groves certainly knows her history of the old west. She also takes part in “Old West” reenactments, so she has first-hand experience with the details of daily life at that time, as well as what it feels like to face an enemy over the barrel of a gun.

Arizona War: A Colton Brothers Saga
Melody Groves
LaFrontera Publishing
ISBN 978-0-9785634-3-1
Paperback  –  288 pages  –  $19.95

Maryann Miller – Maryann’s Blog

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