Emmett Grady has come home. After six years away, he has returned to the small town of Silver Creek to take up the post as sheriff. But things have changed since he’s been gone. His father, Warren, serves as mayor and rules the town with an iron fist. Emmett doesn’t have much use for his father and believes the law should apply to everyone, even the mayor. When he decides to take on the biggest threat in town, Emmett risks losing the only person he cares about.
Jesse Taggart works as a whore and Warren Grady keeps him on a short and violent leash. Despite his situation, Jesse can’t help falling for Emmett, especially when the man decides to court him properly. But romance aside, Jesse knows Emmett is the only one strong enough to challenge Warren and release his strangle hold over Silver Creek. With their friends by their side, Jesse and Emmett must find a way to save their town and themselves if they want a chance at happily ever after.
Let me begin by admitting that I love Westerns. I grew up on the classic Western movies and television shows and my first chapter books were full of gunfights and cattle drives. So I know all the clichés and tend to be pretty forgiving when it comes to Western romances. Which is why even though A Hard Ride Home had plenty of problems, I still found it enjoyable.
The plot is pretty basic and doesn’t blaze any new trails, but the pacing is excellent and A Hard Ride Home never drags or gets bogged down in too much unnecessary clutter. It reads smoothly and the author has done a decent job of giving us a relatable place and time. The characters, both main and secondary, are fairly well developed given the shorter length of the book and for the most part you can’t help but cheering for them.
Jesse is clever and sarcastic and save for his time with Warren Grady, we get the impression that he enjoys at least some aspects of his job. He’s cynical though and hesitant to believe Emmett could want him for anything other than sex. His vulnerability and courage in spite of all that he is forced to endure make him the real focus of the book. I found his brashness to be charming and when he finally starts to trust Emmett, their connection feels genuine, though somewhat under developed. Emmett is more of a mystery. We’re given a few details of his past but never enough to understand why he has returned to Silver Creek or why he is at odds with his father. He claims to prefer women, but doesn’t question his desire for Jesse too deeply. As much as I like them as a couple, we never quite know why Emmett is so keen on Jesse and it left their relationship lacking another dimensional layer.
The secondary characters are generally strong in A Hard Ride Home. Evelyn, Emmett’s half sister, runs the whorehouse and she and her girls are important additions to the story. Along with Jesse, they have created a family of their own and Evelyn’s determination to keep them safe is admirable. As with Emmett, we aren’t given much information about Evelyn’s history and had she been better developed she might have become a truly amazing character.
So, where does A Hard Ride Home really struggle? Warren Grady. He fails to achieve much depth and therefore, while his cruelty is evident, it is hard to take him very seriously. We don’t know when he went bad or why. Emmett has only been away six years, but there is the impression that Warren has been in charge for some time. We don’t know why he is so obsessed and violent with Jesse. Nothing Warren does makes much sense. Emmett’s return first terrifies the citizens of Silver Creek and then energizes them to take back their town from Warren, but we just aren’t given any background as to how this entire power structure came to be. As a result the final battle is anti-climatic and rather unfulfilling.
Additionally there is a lot of unnecessary on page sex in the book. Normally I don’t mind that sort of thing, but quite a bit of it is m/f. I believe the author was trying to reinforce that Jesse is a prostitute and despite his attraction to Emmett, he has a job to do. But this could have shown in a single scene and without having to drag out the point. Also at various times Jesse has sex with Warren, Emmett, and Evelyn and, while it doesn’t distract from the burgeoning relationship between Emmett and Jesse, this complicated web seemed altogether unnecessary and didn’t add anything to the story.
A Hard Ride Home has its troubles, not the least of which is a weak adversary and a lack of character building. But it is also a fast-paced read with a good mixture of humor and angst. So if you enjoy the Western genre, you might want to give this one a try.