Friday, January 22, 2010

Black Crossing by C.K. Crigger

TITLE: Black Crossing
AUTHOR: C.K. Crigger
PUBLISHER: Amber Quill
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 62k)
GENRE: Western
COST: $7.00

When Marshal TJ Osgood rides into Black Crossing for his first day on the job, he’s greeted by the swinging body of a seventeen-year-old boy arrested, tried, and sentenced just the day before. He’d been accused of timber jumping, but his friend – TJ’s new deputy – claims he was innocent. So does the dead boy’s mother, but the man they’re all pointing fingers at not only owns the town, but is the man who sought TJ out and gave him a job. Now, TJ needs to find out what really happened, and set the story straight…

Every time I read a western, I ask myself, “Why don’t I read more of these than I do?” And I don’t know the answer to that. Because I quite often walk away from a finished book in this genre with warm feelings and a smile on my face. This book was no different.

The plot itself is not anything wholly original. Osgood is the new marshal in a town controlled by someone corrupt, and ends up caught in the middle of freeing the town from his tyranny and the man with the power to destroy him. At forty, Osgood is almost past his prime as a lawman, and his body is rebelling. He was shot in the leg just prior to coming to Black Crossing, Idaho, and that hobbling in many ways acts as a metaphor for what holds him back throughout the story. He’s made mistakes, and is unwilling to make those kind of mistakes again, a trait that’s hugely admirable and makes it very easy to empathize with him. It also places him in the underdog position, so even though he’s the one with the badge, he’s the one the reader holds his breath for throughout the story, time and time again.

His characterization isn’t the only well-rounded one. By far, the majority of the cast becomes a realistic individual almost from the moment they’re introduced. There’s Benny Tompko, his na├»ve but moral deputy. There’s Ione Gilpatrick, the mother of the dead boy, who has a fierce spirit and sense of honor that shine off the page. Even the minor character of Magda, Benny’s mother and a feminine presence to counter so many of the men, is warm and inviting. If I have any complaints about the characters, it would only be that the evil guys lack the same sort of depths the good guys do. However, I fully recognize this is a western trope, and so I was far more forgiving of this during the course of my reading.

The prose itself has a quiet intensity that keeps the action focused and the forward momentum strong and even. I didn’t care for the author’s propensity to turn “whoa” into a verb, as in “He whoaed his horse…” but aside from that niggle, I breezed through this. There is rarely a lag in the pacing, and while there are some romantic elements introduced to the story, they are very minor. They add just enough interest for those readers who might want that kind of emotional depth, without becoming the focus for any one of the characters to distract the readers who might prefer this based on its genre. I wouldn’t mind revisiting the town of Black Crossing again, if the author ever chose to pick it up again. Some of its residents almost felt like family when I turned the last page.

Readability

9/10 – A quiet intensity to its pacing keeps this going along

Characterization

8/10 – Some of the secondary characters aren’t quite as rich as the leads, but there’s a rustic realism to almost everyone that adds to the charm.

Plot

7/10 – While not wholly original, there’s enough action and likable characters to keep the forward momentum strong.

Entertainment value

8/10 – I cared enough about everyone to want to see this through to the end.

World building

9/10 – There’s grit in every scene.

TOTAL:

41/50

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