Larry Sweazy, The Coyote Tracker
Review and interview
Larry Sweazy’s new Josiah Wolfe novel is equal parts western and murder mystery. Wolfe, as Sweazy fans know, is a Texas Ranger and a good, decent man, at a time when the Texas Rangers were not universally admired among Texans. By this stage of the game (#5 in the series), he is carrying around a good bit of personal history and plenty of complications in his life.
The novel takes place entirely in the bustling capitol of Austin, where Wolfe currently has a home, far from his origins in rural Texas. The single parent of a young son, he is torn by the demands of his profession that keep him from being a full-time father. Grieving the loss of his wife, he has begun a tentative relationship with a young widow.
Plot. A fellow Ranger is wrongly arrested and jailed for the murder of a prostitute, and Wolfe has two days to save him from the gallows. Suspense builds as the clock ticks and Wolfe hunts for the killer, getting or not getting cooperation from various Austin residents and piecing together clues that don’t add up.
Turns out there is not one prisoner but two, and a daring rescue of the second one leads to an outburst of action involving grenades, a fire, and a moving train. The murder is not solved until the last cards are played at a public trial, while the gallows and a crowd wait outside the courthouse to dispose of the man found guilty.
Character. Like other western writers, Sweazy evokes an imagined West that has points of similarity to the modern world. Part of this is due to the urban setting of this novel. Wolfe, in his sleuthing, leaves Austin city limits only briefly. He also has a self-awareness that is recognizably modern.
Wolfe is a troubled hero. He seems particularly affected by self-doubt, regrets, and misgivings. These make him introspective in ways we don’t usually associate with the western hero, though Sweazy’s portrayal of the man is thoroughly believable. They also make Wolfe’s undaunted courage and dedication to what’s right all the more admirable.
|Austin, Texas, 1873|
He can be tender hearted and is still shaken by what he lived through on the Civil War battlefields. As just one example, the disciplining of his young son triggers uncertainties and confusion. He may say he believes in spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child, but like a modern-day father, he worries that it may teach the wrong lessons about the uses of force.
Those moments in the novel make Wolfe not only a three-dimensional character. He wins the sympathy of readers who know the dilemmas of parenthood and thus identify with him. Meanwhile, the minefield that a romantic attachment can quickly turn into is reflected in his courting of the young widow.
Going public with their relationship, they invite the scrutiny of respectable folks in town, and they walk a fine line where chasteness and decorum are expected. Sweazy pushes the envelope in describing the degree of intimacy the two yearn for and achieve only at rare moments.
Storytelling. Sweazy relies on the standard formulation of the murder mystery in telling the story. Wolfe, his point-of-view character, makes the rounds interviewing folks who are likely to have answers to his questions. One of the many pleasures of the novel is the anticipation of his meeting them and the kind of people they turn out to be.
As one example, there’s the madam of a high-end brothel. She is an albino woman, with a sharp business sense, and able to quickly size up a man. Vulnerable, yes, but she will not be intimidated, not even by the sheriff. She knows too much and can leverage what she knows to hold her own in a hostile social environment. In another twist, she also manages the brothel as a kind of women’s shelter. Dialogue between Wolfe and the secondary characters is often sharp and full of unexpected turns. As Sweazy’s characters talk, they come fully alive on the page. The Texas spring weather plays another role in the story, rapidly changing as the story progresses. Austin itself is a character, often described as being in the throes of feverish modernization, including the destruction of a swath of inner city to make way for a new railroad.
Wrapping up. The Coyote Tracker is a masterful page-turner full of suspense and surprises. It demonstrates the skill that has won Sweazy an appreciative following and numerous awards and recognition. He can be found online at his website. The Coyote Tracker is currently available in both paper and ebook formats at amazon and Barnes&Noble.
For the rest of the review and interview, go to Ron's blog, Buddies in the Saddle