“Book Review: Beyond the Goodnight Trail”
Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen
A slice of frontier history comes to life in this action-packed Western
Beyond the Goodnight Trail is a fictionalization of actual people and events. It follows the initial Goodnight-Loving cattle drive from Texas through to New Mexico. Real people from the Western frontier show up as characters in these pages, as well as real events.
When Pete Horse agrees to scout for Charlie Goodnight’s first cattle drive across Texas, he knows there’s bound to be danger. Not only are they forging a trail for the first time, it’s getting close to the time of year that Comanche braves attack and there’s evidence that an outlaw gang is slaughtering settlers and making the murders look like Indian raids.
On the trail, tensions run high in the Goodnight crew. Not all the cowboys are happy to work under orders from the second-in-command. Sleep and water run low. And when the party comes across an ambushed and burnt-out wagon-line that had been carrying a thousand rifles, the situation becomes more volatile. Pete Horse has had his fill of killing and wants out before the rise of Comanche Moon, but there are things in his past that may catch up to him before he gets his way.
Beyond the Goodnight Trail is a gift that keeps on giving. As soon as you unwrap one amazing layer, you stumble across another. Though this is solidly steeped in the Western genre, there’s something here for everyone. It flickers mysteries through from the first pages; there’s action, a fantastic dose of history, and some amazing political/sociological commentary. But honestly, the thing I loved most about this is that as you read, you feel as though you’re settling back in the saddle, ready to cross the vast, open country with these men.
The pacing in Goodnight Trail works surprisingly well. It starts out leisurely, easing readers into the world, culture, morals and time these characters inhabit. In the beginning, it feels very much like the slower pace of the late-1800s. The pace picks up as the party starts out, but the novel never loses track of the time it takes to go through the cattle drive. Even though this is a medium-length, well-paced novel, it took me a long time to get through. Every time a new character showed up, I had to Google-search them to see if they were real, what they looked like and a little about them. It’s a very steep rabbit-hole to tumble down, and fascinating enough to spend hours there before coming back to the novel.
I’m not always a fan of historical figures tied into fiction, but I liked how it was done in Goodnight Trail. Gaston’s vision of the historical characters he writes is clear, solid, and convincing. He can paint a vivid picture of a character in a few sentences; sometimes in a few words. He takes liberties with the facts, but the story and people feel authentic even if the events stray.
It’s been years since I read a traditional Western, and this one surpasses all expectations. The characters are a pleasure to spend time with. The setting is equal parts captivating and bleakly unsettling. The atmosphere throughout is thick with tension, but there are enough light, fun moments to break through the heaviness.
Category: Historical fiction
Paperback: 262 pages
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