Sheriff Ryan Blackfeather has worked hard to overcome his torturous past to get where he is today, successful in his job as Sheriff, living in a town where he has friends and is respected, and most importantly, content and happily in love with his two partners, Nate and Rio. But a phone call from Oklahoma revitalizes old memories, bad ones that upset his hard won equilibrium and makes him pull away from those he loves. Ryan’s mother has died and the landlord wants the trailer moved off his lot or the rent paid for. Without telling either Rio or Nate why he is going, Ryan leaves on a trip back home, to face his past and confront the abusive father who raised him.
When Nate and Rio realize that Ryan has been withholding the truth about his travels from them, they are hurt and worry about the man they love. How can they help when Ryan doesn’t realize he needs their help to begin with? As the emotional turmoil of Ryan’s past starts to tear at his relationship with his partners, Ryan understands that only by returning to Oklahoma and confronting his demons can he save all he has now, including the men he loves.
Carol Lynne’s Cattle Valley series were some of my first books when I started reading m/m fiction. As I have said back in our Spectacular Series week, I love starting a novel and then discovering that I have a slew of books yet to read in the series. So there is a huge reservoir of affection that wells up in me when Cattle Valley is mentioned. I think there were six books in the series when I started and now it is up to book 27, each running anywhere from a long novella to a short novel.
The Cattle Valley series began in 2007 with All Play and No Work. In this book, Lynne introduces us to Cattle Valley, Wyoming, a gay haven established by a man mourning the death of his gay son. The millionaire wanted to build a place where everyone was gay, and safe, and could build a meaningful, rewarding life among others just like themselves. So he deeded his land to the town and the GLBTQ community came. Lynne starts off her Cattle Valley series as Ryan Blackfeather arrives from Texas to take the job as Cattle Valley’s first Sheriff. Ryan is a part of a triad, his other partners being Rio Adega and Nate Gills. When their small Texas town’s disapproval of their relationship becomes overwhelming, Ryan convinces his men to make the move with him to Cattle Valley. That move and the trio’s adjustment to Wyoming starts the river of books that are the Cattle Valley series.
In each book, Carol Lynne concentrates on one or two pairs of men and their relationships. It is also a staple of Lynne’s that the characters for the books that follow are introduced in the current one. And then as the town fills up with people and businesses, characters we have already met continue to pop up again and again in every story. So Ryan as Sheriff, Nate (who eventually becomes the Mayor), and Rio, who runs the local gym, are focal characters for the series. These men and their relationship were also my first introduction to m/m/m! Lynne has taken their relationship and reexamined its dynamics throughout the series and she does so again in Alone in a Crowd.
In previous stories we learn Nate and Rio’s history. Here we concentrate on Ryan Blackfeather, who has always come across as the rock of their relationship. Ryan has always seemed so controlled and steady while not detracting from the deadly abilities he gained in the military. So it’s interesting that it’s Ryan who starts to fall apart when confronted with his past, a real switch of roles within the triad. Lynne’s descriptions of the reservation and the living conditions Ryan faced growing up in a derelict trailer are both heartbreaking and realistic. Anyone familiar with the plight of Native Americans on reservations today will recognize the authenticity Lynne brings to the scenes in and around Tahlequah, Oklahoma, capitol city of the Cherokee Nation. Whether it is Ryan confronting his father in the nursing home or both men facing their pasts in a dusty cave on the reservation, the descriptions brings the men to life and we feel the anger and pain of their conjoined past rise up around all of us.
In addition to Ryan’s story, another character from the past comes back to Cattle Valley. Smokey Sharp from Rough Ride (Cattle Valley #4) reappears in town, sober and hoping to make amends to the people he wronged in the past. That would be Erza James, Palmer “Wyn” Wynfield (a favorite of mine), and Elliot Simmons, owner of the grocery store. Smokey is suffering from rheumatoid arthritis which limits the work he can do. Ryan finds Smokey work on Robert “Oggie” Ogden’s Second Chance Ranch as a ranch manager. Carol Lynne uses Smokey and Oggie to set the stage for the next book in the series. Oggie’s ranch will become home for GLBTQ youths who are homeless and/or in trouble. She is already lining up the characters: Drake Smith, Chief of Security of Montgomery Enterprises who wants to help financially, and maybe even Joseph, Nate’s ex boyfriend who runs a GLBTQ youth center in NYC. And then there is Dean Grooper, former school custodian, using alcohol to drown his pain over the loss of his long time partner. We meet him here too.
And this brings me to my main quibble with Carol Lynne’s stories lately. Too many characters crowded together into books too small in size to adequately give each character sufficient attention. In the first 6 or even 8 books, the town is still small and Lynne concentrates all her wonderful powers of characterization into a small group of people. With a small focus group, it is easy to become invested in them and their stories. And quite frankly, easy to remember who is with whom. I love those people and can remember each and every detail from their backgrounds. Then the town got bigger (as towns will), more people came and Lynne left behind the one couple/one book format for multiple pairings in a novella sized book. After a while I felt I needed a town chart and name tags for everyone who showed up in a scene, plus all the newcomers making their debuts to get them in place for the next in the series. There were so many people crying out for attention that my brain hurt and characters were forgotten.
Another quibble for me is the pairings. Lynne took Cattle Valley from strictly m/m or m/m/m into other pairings such as m/f/m which doesn’t interest me. Multiple relationship combinations make sense in that Cattle Valley is set up as a town of tolerance so any pairing outside of m/f would be acceptable in town, I am just not interested in reading them specifically. And yes, you can skip those books like I did but as each book moves the series forward, we miss out on events that will be mentioned down the line. It also seemed to bring in an element of “MarySue” into her writing that had been absent up until then.
Lynne packs a lot of emotion into a story and her characters. She also packs a lot of sex. She has dealt with sex when one partner is paralyzed, sex with multiple partners, interracial sex, fem gays, BDSM, you name it and Lynne has probably addressed it in a story. Her sex scenes are vivid, hot, and never unintentionally funny. In Alone in a Crowd, she had the boys do things with an ear of corn (ok that was funny, but intentionally so) I had not read before and still left me able to have corn on the cob at my next meal! I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that as I love corn. She also mentions a douche attachment for the boys shower, something I think should be brought up more as it is a realistic part of anal sex. Lynne did a great job here while still giving us realistic elements.
I had stopped reading Cattle Valley around Neil’s Guardian (Cattle Valley #17), overwhelmed by too many characters and too little plot in too few pages. With Alone in a Crowd, Lynne returns to the form that made me a fan to begin with and does it with the characters that started it all. I hope this continues with the next in the series, whatever that may be. And in the meantime, I might just have to go back and pick up the ones I missed. I still love Cattle Valley and its vision of a town of tolerance and equality. Alone in a Crowd brought that all back. If you are new to the series, start from the beginning. See Cattle Valley as it gets off the ground, meet all the inhabitants as they find their way to town, watch as the romances form and carry over, story after story. You will have 27 to go and counting. For those who got lost along the way like me, pick it back up again and remember why you loved it. And for those who never left, here is a gem of a story to treasure as Cattle Valley continues to grow.
The Cattle Valley Book series covers by Posh Gosh are my favorites in a series cover. They brand the series while still conveying the subject of each book. Great job.