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Review – Showdown on the River

J.L. Curtis has started what I hope is a new western series. It’s a great beginning that starts fast and never stops.

Rio Bell is leading a cattle drive up the Goodnight Loving Trail to Fort Laramie. It’s his first time as trail boss, but with trusted hands and hard work, he expects to be back in Texas by late September though fire, flood, or rustlers bar the way!

He didn’t count on a range war.

They didn’t account for the Rio Kid…

And he sure as hell didn’t count on the girl showing up!

Curtis is one of his generation’s best storytellers, and his talent really shows in Showdown on the River.  The author fills the wide open spaces of the American West with bigger-than-life characters.  We have cowboys, mountain men, bad men, and a fiery frontier woman who isn’t afraid of anything. If you enjoyed the glory days of Western dime novels, you’ve met all of these people before, but Curtis puts his own twist on them and makes them even more human.

Showdown on the River follows a cattle drive from Texas to the Mountain West, then follows Rio, the main character, as he stumbles into a range war.  Rio has a dark past, and Curtis does a great job of showing the bad things that can happen when a good man is pushed to violence.  The plot starts at a brisk pace and gradually picks up steam before going full tilt through the final act.  Along the way, we meet and get to know Rio and his cowboys, along with a bunch of cantankerous mountain men.  Curtis throws in a strong-willed, beautiful woman, giving Rio one more thing on his mind as he tries to survive doing the right thing.

Showdown on the River is a quick read, especially after the book’s midpoint.  Once the table is set, Curtis treats us to one great plot sequence after another.  He keeps the reader’s attention throughout by including enough historical detail to be interesting, but without delving too deeply.

I’d definitely recommend Showdown on the River if you’re a fan of old-fashioned spurs-and-six-guns Westerns.  If you’ve never tried the genre before, this would be a great place to start.

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