Fenton Pardee learned the packer’s trade with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show – how to handle horses, and how to strap packs onto a mule that won’t come apart on a fractious animal. He hears tales of Montana’s high country from Cheyenne Indians and real-life cowboys who work for the show. A disastrous train wreck leaves Pardee on horseback, riding west to explore those rolling grasslands and snow-covered scarps which become his home.
Blue Heaven is the prequel to Willard Wyman’s award-winning High Country. It features Fenton Pardee in younger days, following many a difficult trail through forests and rivers into the unforgiving, heartbreakingly beautiful Rockies. We meet Pardee’s friends, the woman he married, and the young Ty Hardin, who works for him as a fledgling packer.
Wyman re-creates the Old West for his readers, before roads scarred its mountains, and when horseback was the only way to get to Fenton’s lofty paradise. I loved the way Wyman could put me in the saddle, and haul me up a muddy mountainside so clearly that I could feel cold rain down my neck and the slick reins in my hands.
In the early pages, Pardee’s characters seemed sketchy to me, perhaps because I haven’t read High Country and didn’t get to know Pardee there. Wyman’s characters didn’t truly engage me until Cody Jo, a cute, gutsy schoolteacher from Massachusetts, comes to town and flings every man into a dither. That is when Wyman’s characters really come to life, for as they reveal themselves to Cody Jo, they do the same for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of Blue Heaven.