While pursuing investigations into cattle rustling in the Oklahoma Territory, Ranger Tell Hadley came upon a hanged man, dead cattle, and two men left dying in the dust around them. Now he is on the trail of the survivor to find out what happened back on the Rocking R ranch, and blood marks show him that man is injured.
Noel Ivory is a man on the run. His best friend Jack Rogers has been murdered, his cattle killed, and he aims to avenge his friend. But he is injured and being trailed by a stranger. When Tell catches up with Noel, he is surprised to find that the man he has been tracking is a young reporter from back East with a story to tell of water rights, murder, and the involvement of a prominent local family. Noel is not sure who he can trust and Tell knows that Noel is hiding something from him. Can the two men learn to trust each other in time to bring the murderers to justice or will Noel be the next victim?
Catt Ford had me at the name Tell. That name alone brought back a rush of memories and affection for one of my all time favorite characters in western fiction, William “Tell” Sackett of Louis L’Amour’s novels. I have every one of his books, passed down to me by my dad, a die hard L’Amour fan. And with her opening sentence, she dropped me back into the wide ranges populated with trail savvy fighters of the genre I love.
Ranger Tell Hadley follows in the boot steps of other solitary men of honor of which westerns are so fond. Able to track a man where others fail, borne by a half wild Mustang as savvy as himself, I loved Tell from the beginning. Cautious and fair, I find that he is the heart of the story and not the character of Noel Ivory as Ford may have intended. Noel presents some challenges here as a character in a western. While it is true the typical “Easterner” is found throughout western fiction, Noel ended up presenting me with more questions than answers about his character. He is a reporter from Philadelphia who ventured out west with his best friend, yet our canny Ranger has some trouble tracking him as Noel appears to know tricks that only the wiliest of trackers would know. How Noel obtained that knowledge is never explained, as his friend only passed the rudiments of riding and tracking to him. Plus Noel has an equally smart steed in Smokey who appears on his way to character status and then disappears.
Another quibble here is the “instant love” between Noel and Tell. Noel is injured and grieving over the loss of his best friend while trying to bring to justice the men who murdered him. Tell is trying to get Noel to trust him while carrying out his duties as a Ranger. So how is it that their gaydar goes off, they have sex and declare their love for each other? I just found it hard to believe in so few pages.
I think Ford could have solved most of these issues by extending the length of the story. This is a very short story with the feel of a much larger one. She has done an excellent job here with her location, demonstrating a nice touch for the territory and small cattle towns. I loved her descriptions of the trail, the land around it, and the men and horses who move through it. And her alternating POV between Noel and Tell worked well to bring each character closer to the reader. Everything works here, we just need a little more time to get to know Noel and watch a relationship grow between the two men. These two characters deserve that degree of reader satisfaction and realism. And that would have turned a lovely short story into a great novella.