Nesbitt’s laconic 1890s Western opens when a stranger rides into the small town of Winsome, Wyoming. Dunbar has a lot of curiosity for a ranch hand, and when young Grey Wharton’s rancher boss hires the man, Grey starts paying more attention to life in his own little world. A girl is missing; but nobody wants is to turn over rocks to find her. Gray’s an insider, privy to unguarded conversation among the influential men in Winsome. He’s appalled but helpless in the face of their indifference. He suspects Dunbar has come looking for the girl. Jealousy makes him wary of the stranger’s motives, but Grey is a smart kid; he watches, listens, and learns.
Although Dunbar’s “curiosity” arouses powerful enemies, he keeps his gun holstered until a fellow worker is killed. Then Winsome gets a much-needed top-to-bottom shakeup and, by the time the still-mysterious stranger rides out, Grey Wharton has grown up a lot. The young narrator is an appealing character, and as a coming-of-age story, Dark Prairie should interest a wider audience than would a traditional Western.