The Maynwarings: A Game of Chance, Digger Cartwright, 2012 (Kindle e-book, B008VR6JGI)
Set in the Nevada Territory just after the Civil War, this novel is about a family for whom things suddenly start going very badly.
The Maynwarings are one of the founding families in Carson City, the territory’s capital. Barron, the family patriarch, is a United States Senator. They own several buildings in town, along with an immense cattle ranch outside of town.
A well-dressed stramger named Giddeon Van Thorn rides into town, and offers to purchase several businesses, including a saloon and the local mercantile, for a very generous price. Those who decline his offer have a nasty habit of ending up dead. Van Thorn says that he is part of a shadowy Association from back East, whose intention is to develop Carson City, bringing jobs and tax revenue (sound familiar?).
A neighboring rancher, Dan Arkin, is found dead, several hours after a poker game that went bad. Suspicion falls on Jeremy Foster, a recluse, and another participant in the ill-fated poker game. The Maynwarings set up a search party to ask Foster some hard questions; the circumstantial evidence against him is pretty strong. Several of Van Thron’s thugs are unknowingly included in the search party. They reach Foster first, and lynch him, preventing the Maynwarings from following the law. The body count starts to rise. The local judge is in Van Thorn’s pocket. Things get serious when anthrax is found in their cattle; it can wipe out an entire herd very quickly. Things get even more serious when one of Barron’s sons, Houston, is shot and seriously wounded by an unknown assailant in broad daylight. Is all of this Van Thorn’s fault, or is there some other explanation? Can Van Thorn’s plans be stopped? Will the Maynwaring ranch survive?
The author does a very good job from start to finish. He puts the reader right in the middle of the story, and the characters feel like real people. Here is a first-rate piece of writing.
Paul Lappen is a freelance book reviewer whose blog, Dead Trees Review, emphasizes small press and self-published books.