Since Owen Wister published The Virginian in 1902 and Zane Grey published The Last of the Plainsman in 1908, Western authors have mined the West’s rich tapestry of historic characters and unforgiving, rugged landscape for inspiration. Following in this grand tradition, award-winning author Jeff Guinn displays all of his mastery of the genre in the final, dramatic entry in his Cash McLendon trilogy, Silver City (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $27). Fans of Guinn’s Glorious (Putnam, 2014) and Buffalo Trail (Putnam, 2015) will recognize his cast of real and imagined characters in fugitive hero Cash McLendon, hapless outlaw Ike Clanton, Irish hooligan-hitman Patrick “Killer Boots” Brautigan, strong-willed Gabrielle Tirrito, wealthy villain Rupert Douglass and well-intentioned sheriff-turned-school teacher Joe Saint—all of whom play strong roles in Glorious, but are mostly alluded to in Buffalo Trail, which is set amidst the historic Indian-white war zone of the buffalo hide trade of the plains region of Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas.
As in Buffalo Trail—in which Guinn places McLendon in direct conflict (and historical context) with Quanah Parker and the Comanches on the Southern Plains and the Second Battle of Adobe Walls in the Texas Panhandle—Silver City integrates the treacherous desert lands of Arizona and New Mexico territories with historic characters of the Newton Clanton family, San Carlos Indian Reservation Agent John Clum and Chiricahua leader Geronimo and his Apache band. The Fort Worth author weaves them into his concluding tale of revenge, retribution and reconciliation. He expertly fictionalizes historic Globe, Arizona, as the mining town of “Mountain View” (similar to his fictionalizing the territorial Arizona silver camp of Superior as “Glorious” in the first volume of the same name) and sets action in real places including St. Louis; Clantonville, the Clanton Clan compound on the Gila River; and the novel’s namesake, Silver City, New Mexico Territory. Guinn’s use of his first-hand knowledge of the Southwest’s harsh terrain and climate is remniscent of the style employed by the genre’s best novelists who wrote about the region in the 1870s, including Louis L’Amour, Elmore Leonard and Larry McMurtry.
With Silver City, Guinn brings to a dramatic conclusion his tale of Cash McLendon and Gabrielle Tirrito’s unrequited love and a specter of a horrible death at the hands of their enemies. Fans of Guinn’s series will long for more adventures of McLendon and Tirrito, but without reading Silver City, readers will not know whether they escape the treacherous “Killer Boots” or die trying. Paraphrasing the narrator’s words at the end of the old B-Western serials, “you’ll have to wait until the next episode.”