Blood on the Trail (A Jeremiah Halstead Western)

Written by Terrence McCauley
Review by G. J. Berger

Twenty-four-year-old newly deputized U.S. Marshal Jeremiah Halstead has captured John Hudson, leader of a gang that brutalizes settlers and towns in the 1880s. Halstead ties Hudson face-down over a horse and saddle for the two-day ride to Helena in Montana Territory. There, a judge will try Hudson and likely send him to a quick hanging. The others in Hudson’s gang chase Halstead into the mining town of Silver Cloud, where he deposits Hudson into the local jail. Halstead hopes the town will help fend off the gang and let him rest before his final run to Helena the next morning.

Neither the local bully of a sheriff, his crude deputies, nor the town’s people welcome Halstead. Some fear the gang’s violence he has brought to them. Others revile him as a “half-breed” Native American, though Halstead’s mother was Mexican. Hudson’s gang secretly pays town thugs to help free their leader and kill Halstead. On top of that, Halstead’s U.S. Marshal boss telegraphs him to stay put until further orders.

This first in the Jeremiah Halstead series introduces an engaging hero. A superb marksman and strategist, he remains introspective, even caring. Secondary characters enhance the story. The sheriff has more depth than it first appears. A Mexican family who owns and runs the only decent hotel bonds with Halstead. The proprietor of the town’s main bar and gambling joint helps in surprising ways. McCauley skillfully portrays the personalities of the individual Hudson gang members. Though the story arc (hero must transport prisoner through hell and high water) has been done often, and some fight scenes could have been tamped down, this satisfying novel will leave readers waiting for book two in the Halstead series.