Listen to the Mockingbird
Rife with incident, this 1860s New Mexico-set novel follows Matty Summerhayes from abused army wife to convict to horse rancher. She must overcome obstacles from a plot to steal her land for its fabled gold mine to Union and Confederate fighting over the course of the Civil War, to flash floods and bubonic plague.
The galloping story is a page-turner, but sometimes suffers from too much “tell” and clichéd shortcuts at the expense of the verisimilitude that comes with well placed detail. (“I was knitting some mindless article—a scarf, I think.”)
The weakest link is the narrator herself. Matty’s growth into self-sufficiency was less than convincing and almost seemed an accident of plot. When her former slave returns to help Matty run the ranch, Winona’s story, spirit and resourcefulness make her mistress suffer by comparison. Even as Matty’s husband’s abuse and the forces against her mount, it’s hard to conjure interest in a woman whose dog and horse have to die before she realizes she’s in big trouble.