Author Michael Zimmer is a good friend of mine. We get together for low-rent Mexican food every month or so and talk about books and writing. His knowledge of the Old West is encyclopedic, and he researches his books to provide rich detail. Yet he weaves those details seamlessly into compelling stories so you’re not even aware how much you’re learning as you race through the pages.
As you can tell, I am a big admirer of Michael’s writing. And more than a little bit jealous. You won’t go wrong with any of his novels. Here is my take on his latest.
The Poacher’s Daughter is not your ordinary Western. The hero is reluctant to engage in gunplay, is victorious through happenstance more often than shooting skill, and is tortured by the resulting deaths even if justified.
On top of that, the hero is a woman.
“Rose of Yellowstone” is a masterfully crafted character, struggling with her lot in life and her emotions even as she fends off hired guns determined to see to her demise. Zimmer, as usual, balances the gritty details of daily life with adventure and action, resulting in a realistic and enjoyable read that could have happened, even if it didn’t.
The “American Legends Collection” is a fictional series based on a supposedly lost and recently recovered WPA-era folklore project. The books are organized as first-person oral history accounts interspersed with explanatory material gleaned from other sources, also fictional but often historical. Rio Tinto is my friend Michael Zimmer’s second novel in the series, following City of Rocks and preceding Leaving Yuma.
Throughout the book, Wil Chama relates his involvement in a bloody conflict over salt deposits near the Rio Grande in Texas in 1880. There are overtones of racism, greed, and lust for power. Although he tries to leave his reputation as a gunman behind and his haunted past is the reason he is in the town of Rio Tinto, like a candle burning at both ends he finds himself involved in both sides of the conflict. Gunfights, hangings, and dynamite explosions all play a part in the war, so the book offers plenty of page-turning action. But it is Chama’s psychological struggles that give the book its power.
As is always the case with Zimmer’s novels, careful research provides an education for the reader. But the information is woven seamlessly into the narrative, which makes the learning enjoyable.