SUMMERS’ HORSES by Ralph Cotton
Ralph Cotton is one of the most popular Western writers currently producing novels, and he produces them steadily. Summers’ Horses is one of his current releases. I was drawn to the spectacular cover and the certain knowledge that the cowboy pictured there was up against some rough odds.
I grew up on Louis L’Amour, Luke Short, and Ace Double Westerns when I was a kid, then migrated over to George G. Gilman’s Edge series when I was in my late teens. The Edge books are a sprawling bloodfest, much different than the L’Amour books, but they both had their audiences. I’d put Ralph Cotton somewhere in between those two bookends. His Old West looks and feels real, but there’s a rawness to the characters and the story that can make some readers uncomfortable.
Cotton is also a writer that doesn’t mince words and doesn’t dawdle. Summers’ Horses takes off so fast that I felt lost a few times. I knew that horse trader Will Summers was our hero, but he kind of got lost in the shuffle at times while Cotton was rounding out his cast of characters.
The cast got big awfully quick, and for light reading I was required to keep up with a lot of people. The fact that Cotton kills characters off pretty regularly helps shave that task down to a manageable size, and he keeps track of everyone and every goal because he brings everything to head and ties up the loose ends.
Still, I’m more accustomed to riding with the hero instead of wondering where he is. Will Summers isn’t quite the hero in this tale either. He’s just a guy trying to keep a string of horses together, which works in the long run for those wanting realistic heroes and plots. I tend to prefer guys who rise to the occasion and become heroes along the way.
The reading is easy. Scene leads to scene, and there is a lot going on all over the place even though Summers isn’t at the center of everything. Western readers looking for a solid story from a writer very comfortable in his craft will enjoy this one.