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mickey mikkelson
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Sherriff of Starr County
When Texas becomes a newly-minted state, good men and women work hard toward progress and peace. Texas Ranger Will Smith travels to the borderlands of the Nueces Strip to become the first Sheriff of Starr County. He’ll do what he must to bring justice to the frontier, including wrangling outlaws, navigating political intrigues, fighting Indians, and keeping the tenuous peace between the Tejano and Anglo residents. He encounters influential statesmen and entrepreneurs of early Texas, assists the US Army, and falls for two very different women. This is exciting and authentic fiction based on the author’s own ancestors. It’s a compelling story in readible format for anyone who appreciates Texas history
Bowles’s fifth entry in his Westward Sagas series (after Comanche Trace) bursts with all the trappings of a classic frontier adventure—but also confronts the more subtle socio-political dynamics of mid-19th-century Texas. Will Smith, Texas Ranger turned sheriff of newly formed Starr County, is charged with maintaining the law of the land in a brutal zone along the Nueces Strip, a scorched territory rife with violence. As Will fights to preserve peace between the Tejanos and the Anglos, he must also round up dangerous fugitives, handle a brewing cholera threat, and act as political agent in a boundary dispute that has the potential to turn into civil war.

The complex relationships and baggage accompanying years of conflict between the inhabitants of Texas is expertly conveyed from the beginning. Texas Ranger Will is addressed as “Los Diablo Tejanos” (devil from Texas), a title left over from the Rangers’ cruelty during the Mexican-American War, and he faces a constant threat of attack, whether from the Mexican Army, the indigenous peoples, or the clash of Tejanos and Anglos in the unsettled climate of a newly annexed state. Some readers may find the character arcs unidimensional and slightly rushed, but Bowles compensates with a richly crafted setting.

The Nueces Strip’s arid and harsh landscape is vividly wrought, and Bowles is meticulous when it comes to the details, such as the pioneering use of the telegraph and the ever-present frontier need for gunpowder and munitions. The story’s themes—friendship, law, morality, and family—evoke the romanticism of the Wild West, but Bowles is careful to interlace them with the significant battles, bills, and legislation that shaped Texas history, and he carries off a conclusion that sets the stage for the next in the series. Historical fiction fans will be pleased with this intricate portrait of a spirited and untamed Texas.

Takeaway: Rich with history, this entry transports readers to the untamed lands of Texas.

Great for fans of: Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing, A.W. Hart’s The Ranger.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: NA
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A-