There are too few great Western novels, so I am glad to discover Michael McGarrity’s Hard Country. It begins with ruthless urgency with the death in childbirth of John Kerney’s wife Mary Alice and the murder of his brother and nephew by rustlers. His son Patrick is sent off in the care of his newly bereaved aunt Ida while John Kerney heads off in search of work and revenge.
However, never fear, this is no Outlaw Josey Wales or Revenant. This is not a revenge story, it’s a family story. John lives the cowboy life, traveling from ranch to ranch. His calm good sense earns him friends and respect that reward him all his life. One of them is Cal Doran with whom he buys a ranch while sending letters trying to track down his son who was left in the hands of a doctor and his wife after his sister-in-law died.
This is a story about ranching, about settling New Mexico, about the history of the West. It is rich in texture, with interesting secondary characters as well. I have an old leather-bound copy of Log of a Cowboy and Hard Country has that kind of authenticity.
In Hard Country, we get to know three generations of Kerneys. There is John, his son Patrick whose indomitable wife Emma is an inspiration, and Patrick and Emma’s sons C.J. and Matt. The story begins shortly after the Civil War and ends during World War One.
Hard Country is the first in a three-part family saga following the Kerney family, the ancestors of Kevin Kerney, the main character in a detective series I am adding to my For Later Shelf at the library. I have not read any of the Kevin Kerney novels and that has not been an impediment to being completely engrossed.
I liked Hard Country very much and am eager to read the sequels Backlands and The Last Ranch, which will be released May 17th. There is a strong sense of place, the ranch is a character as hard and enduring as the Kerneys. The author writes with subtly about the relationships between whites and Mexicans and the Apaches. One of the best things, though, is the people are by and large likable. Even the one who can be stupid and self-sabotaging, they are still likable. I cared about them, I cried with them and look forward to the next part of their journey.