Once again, Michael McGarrity brings us the awe-inspiring but also harsh and unforgiving desert and mountain landscapes of the Tularosa that are the backdrop to the conflicts within the tough but ever-resourceful Kerney clan.
After losing her elder son CJ during World War I, Emma Kerney becomes ill and takes steps to guarantee the financial future of her younger boy, Matt. Meanwhile, her ex-husband, Patrick, continues to struggle with alcoholism and an ill disposition that will be complicated by an unwelcome reminder of his time in prison. As the years pass, Matt and his father remain at odds, yet they have the common goal in a determination to keep the family ranch going in spite of drought and the disasters of the Great Depression. When America enters World War 2, both men are faced with new challenges and Matt risks becoming cynical and bitter like his father.
Aside from the gutsy Emma, the women include the shy Hispanic, Evangelina, optimistic but tubercular Beth, and free-spirited Anna Lynn, all of whom provide excellent feminine balance in this gritty macho world of dust, cattle and ponies. An added plus are the details of how Roosevelt’s New Deal initiative, the Civilian Conservation Corps, operated in assisting young men find work in building roads, planting forests and creating new parks.
McGarrity’s characters have a believable humanity, and his writing is straight as a die, but that does not mean he is predictable, as just when you anticipate a certain outcome he throws a wrench into the story that makes you gasp. The open ending suggests there is more to come in this enthralling saga that began with Hard Country, echoes of which resonate strongly throughout this sequel. Most highly recommended – but make sure you read Hard Country first if you haven’t already done so.