Civil War veteran Wes Bracken comes to New Mexico, where the Rio Ruidoso and Rio Bonito converge, to raise horses with his brother in the mid-1870s. On his trip in, he makes enemies of the villainous Horrell brothers when he saves beautiful Serafina’s family from a racist assault. Wes works hard to build his ranch, until his drunken brother joins up with the Horrell brothers and trouble follows. Wes earns the respect of the recently widowed Serafina and of local, oppressed Hispanic men, and the time comes for Wes to face the Horrell brothers.
Wes is a worthy Western hero: a sturdy man looking to overcome his past and build a future in a boundless, but harsh, landscape that can have soul-stirring beauty (“…the quartet had reached a great precipice that looked over a vast expanse of white sands to the west and rough basin country to the southwest, where broken mountains jutted like granite teeth from the earth”). He is a man with the courage to stand up to tyranny and right injustice. Throw in horses, six-shooters, gunfights and folksy narrative, and dialogue that almost seems to drawl off a cowboy’s tongue, and you have a good ol’ fashioned western novel.
Rio Ruidoso is book one in a trilogy set around the Lincoln County Wars, which began in 1878. Wes encounters real historical figures such as the Horrell brothers, Sherriff Mills and Deputy Sherriff Haskins, and local tycoons Lawrence Murphy and John Chisum, who led opposing factions. There’s even a cameo by Billy the Kid, who surely will play a role later in the trilogy. Books two and three are to be looked forward to from prolific Western novelist Preston Lewis, who writes with a historical authenticity rooted in his interest in Billy the Kid and the Wars.