Wild Justice: A Page Murdock Novel (Page Murdock Novels)

Written by Loren D. Estleman
Review by Valerie Adolph

Author of ten previous Page Murdock books, Estleman now brings Murdock into 1896, feeling his age and saddened by the sudden death of his friend and mentor, Judge Harlan A. Blackthorne. Blackthorne had been the law in Montana for 30 years, legendary for bringing the land from untamed wilderness to more-or-less a law-abiding territory, and Murdock tells us that Blackthorne had been said to have out-foxed the entire outlaw population of Montana. Despite Murdock’s grudging respect for Blackthorne, he did not expect to be commanded from beyond the grave to accompany the coffin and the widow on Blackthorne’s final train journey from Helena eastward to St. Paul, Minnesota.

As the beautifully decorated but tiny train chugs eastward, it is joined by reporter Howard Rossleigh who, while being annoying with his questions, seems genuine enough until Murdock finds blood in the caboose of the train. The conductor has disappeared, and despite a thorough search, he cannot be found. From then on, the story twists and turns, featuring a hot air balloon, a beautiful young female reporter, and Murdock’s growing friendship with the widow Blackthorne. The final surprise awaits in the lawyer’s office in St. Paul.

The language is powerful, with some of the best metaphors west of the Dakotas. The many characters met along the way are incisively and memorably drawn. The weapons they carry and draw with deadly accuracy are detailed, too. Murdock and Judge Blackthorne are unforgettable: men of their time, or perhaps men who have outlived their time as the American West becomes governable.

This is a gloriously vivid tale made up in part of a number of shorter tales of the Wild West. It’s a story that could be told around a crackling campfire surrounded by darkness and, if possible, by the howling of wolves.