cover image White Desert

White Desert

Loren D. Estleman / Author Forge $22.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-312-

Colorful western fiction and gritty crime drama merge in this new installment in Estleman's popular series featuring Page Murdock, a cynical 40-year-old deputy U.S. marshal working for tough-as-a-boiled-owl Judge Harlan Blackstone in the Montana territory in 1882. Lorenzo Bliss and Charlie Whitelaw, outlaws who have recently been plaguing Montana, are said to have fled north into Canada, where it is reported they massacred a settlement of gold panners, burning the whole place to the ground. It's Canada's problem now, thinks Murdock, until he loses a billiard game to the wily judge and grudgingly crosses the border to assist the Mounties in tracking down the sadistic outlaws. Murdock is pushing his luck behind a badge, but his determination and tracking skills make him a formidable pursuer. In the unfamiliar wilderness of a harsh Canadian winter, however, even Murdock's talents for survival are tested. After a contentious introduction to the Mounties and their arrogant commander, Inspector Urban Vivian, Murdock sets out for the ruins of the settlement, where he has learned one survivor still lives: a woman who witnessed the murder of her husband and two children. Just as he arrives, he is shot by the emotionally scarred widow--and that's only the start of his troubles. He hires a shifty French-Canadian woodsman and his family as guides, only to be captured by a colony of former American slaves who have little affection for any white man. Murdock reckons he will give up betting on billiards. Still, his sleuthing talents, plus some luck, save his hide again and he rides to a final showdown involving the Mounties, renegade Sioux and the blood-crazed Bliss-Whitelaw bunch. Estleman is in top form here, providing a refreshingly original western cop story filled with crackling action, snappy dialogue and bone-chilling descriptions of frozen Canada. (July)