Note: This second book of the series is a direct sequel to the first, so if you haven’t read the previous book, be prepared for spoilers.
The cards are being good to Cooper tonight, and hopefully he’ll make enough money off the game to pay down his huge gambling debt. Unfortunately, although the game goes his way, one of his opponents isn’t too happy about losing and pulls a gun. It’s a tense few moments until a tall stranger dressed in black intervenes on Cooper’s behalf. After dispatching the troublesome gambler, the mysterious man, Gunner, challenges Cooper to another game. If Cooper wins, he’ll more than double his winnings, but if he loses, he has to go with Gunner. It’s the start of a rocky relationship for both men.
Cooper is only briefly introduced in the first book of the series, Heartaches & Hoofbeats, where his appearance with his daughter provides the impetus to get his brother Jesse to turn in the Iron Bandits and save his own life. How Gunner got Cooper to Stallion Ridge is left a mystery, which is explained in the first chapter of this story. After that, the story picks up in the aftermath of the previous book.
Like his brother, Cooper seems to be a fundamentally good person trapped in a bad situation, at least partly of his own making. His determination to “fix” things without anyone else’s help is admirable, but also a big part of the problem. Cooper’s circumstances may seem extreme but he still comes across as a very believable character.
Gunner is definitely a man of mystery. You’ll probably guess his secret before it’s actually revealed. He’s very much the strong silent type; something of an anti-hero with a dark side. Like so many heros in romance books, Gunner is a little too good to be true, but not so much as to make him unbelievable. Within the late nineteenth century western fantasy world the author has created (quite well), he’s quite a classic archetype.
The pacing of this second book is much faster than the first. That’s probably due to a lot of time being spent in the previous installment introducing all the characters that will play a part in the series. The story is still a bit episodic but a little more even. In all, it’s a very good second book, with the third volume already out. Look for a review of it soon.
“Claw Marks and Card Games” is available from Amazon.