Cottonmouth (The Guns of Samuel Pritchard)

Written by Sean Lynch
Review by Tom Vallar

Smokin’ Joe Atherton is a legend in the Old West, but he no longer uses that name from his Civil War and Texas Ranger days. In the spring of 1874, he wants to be known simply as Samuel Pritchard and settle down in his hometown of Atherton, Missouri, though as its marshal he still has to deal with the occasional commotion. After all, he and his lifelong friend rid the town of the wicked and crooked Shipleys last year, so they feel entitled to some peace and quiet.

A $10,000 bounty has been placed on Pritchard’s head by an anonymous foe (the “Cottonmouth” of the title), and soon the town is overrun with gunslingers bent on plugging Smokin’ Joe. With his blazing fast draw and his uncanny accuracy with any firearm, he stays alive even after two men arrive intending to take not only his badge but also the town away from him and his sister, the mayor. Pritchard needs his friends, his wits, and his lightning-fast guns to stave off this threat.

Lynch spins a barn burner of a Western: the body count is high; he throws in a love interest, riverboat gamblers, and gypsies; and he keeps you guessing about who’s on whose side as the final showdown nears. He sprinkles in the backstory of the first book in the series so well I felt like I read it even though I never heard of it until I picked up this volume. Lynch uses his law enforcement and military background to full advantage, and his skill as a master storyteller makes you care about his characters. I look forward to the next book in this series.