I will admit that I bought McMasters #5- Mexican Standoff strictly for the cover. I was looking for a good beach read on a hot summer day, paging through the $1 paperback westerns of New England’s largest used book store. I was looking for a steamy, blood & guts adult western, preferably from a series that I hadn’t seen before. The usual suspects were there- Rough Justice, Edge, Spur, Buckskin. My meanderings through these too often blurred the line between the sex and violence, very much not to my taste, so I wanted something different. Eventually I found the McMasters series, featuring a stock detective out for justice. That was a different idea. Then I saw the cover to #5, with the title character and two senoiritas in bed. A ménage a trios on the cover? I’d struck gold.
The next day at the beach, surrounded by Bosnians, Russians, and Jamaicans (if you can’t take multiculturalism then you really should stay the heck out of New England), I dug into the book. Okay, there’s our hero, still recovering from the shock of seeing his wife murdered in Book One. Ah, while riding to the vengeance trail his cowboy brother suggests that he use his guns for good and become a Stock Detective, taking the fight to rustlers. Interesting, I’m not sure that being a hired gun for the Big Cattle (the granddaddy of Big Oil) is going to be turning to the good in everyone’s book, but I’ll buy it. And there’s a ranch in trouble. Always, there is a ranch in trouble. And where there is a ranch in trouble, there is often a rancher’s daughter. I could see the “adult” part coming in soon.
And so we were off. First to the nearby town, barely taken back from outlaws and banditos. There McMasters pumps the girl from the local hotel for information… with kind words. Okay, he’s not a total lout. Then it’s off to the ranch, to meet with the local players, including the ranch owner, his secundo, and the beautiful, young, perky rancher’s daughter… who drifts in and out of the scene fairly quickly, and fully clothed. That makes sense, best not to piss off the boss in the first hundred pages. From the ranch we chase the rustlers, following a stolen herd to a village in Mexico where the only honest man is a saloon owner with a feisty daughter. McMasters and the daughter have a long, hard, hot… conversation about right and wrong.
Where was the “adult” part? It came along eventually, with one steamy scene involving the girl from the hotel and her friend, but that was the only such scene in the book. It came along 120 pages into this slim 183 page paperback. Was I disappointed? Not at all. While not great literature, it was a good story. Westerns rarely get involved in the cattle trade, the heart of the cowboy image. McMasters was embedded in cowboying, while carrying a mandate to preserve the stock of his employers by whatever means were at his disposal. Cowhands and gunhands, all in the same book, with a crime writers eye on criminal conspiracy and betrayal. McMasters wasn’t the book that I was hoping it would be, but it turned out to be much better.
Finally, back to cowhands, gunhands, and the ranch in trouble. I liked the idea so much that they are framing my own first novel, now just over 10,000 words. Thanks, McMasters!