BLOOD ON THE TRAIL
A Jeremiah Halstead Western
By Terrence McCauley
Mystery writer Terrence McCauley burst on the Western scene several years ago with his first Sheriff Aaron Mackey novel, “Where the Bullets Fly.” At the end of that four-book series, Mackey was sworn in as Montana’s U.S. Marshal and residing in Helena, the state capital. We cannot say enough good things about that series and happily reviewed every one of them. Though we were led to believe that after the fourth book that would be the last we’d see of Mackey and his likable cast of characters.
Happily, we’ve been proven wrong as McCauley has now returned to Montana and begun a second series this time featuring one of Mackey’s Deputy Marshals, Jeremiah Halstead, who had first appeared in the previous books as a supporting character. Young Halstead was the son of one of Mackey’s closest friends from the war. In this first story, Deputy Halstead is sent down to the small town of Rock Creek to locate the whereabouts of the murderous Hudson Gang. That he manages to do easily enough. It is only after he captures the gang’s leader, John Hudson, that his trouble begins. Fleeing Rock Creek with the rest of the killers chasing him, Halstead manages to escape but not before killing two of them; one being Hudson’ younger brother.
Desperate to get back to Helena with his prisoner, the Deputy Marshal stops in the town of Silver Cloud, a halfway point on his trip. But when goes to the local jail to lock up his prisoner, he’s confronted by the mean-spirited Sheriff Boddington and his two dimwit deputies. Halstead has no patience for men like these and quickly puts all three out of commission with the use of his rifle butt; an action guaranteed not to endear him with the good people of Silver Cloud. Then he gets a telegram from Marshal Mackey telling him not to return immediately, but to remain in the burgeoning mining camp, Halstead’s situation becomes less than enviable.
Then within twenty hours of his arrival, a popular prostitute is murdered, her body discovered in the alley behind the saloon. Thus our hero is forced to stay in a town where he has already antagonized the sheriff, is embroiled in a murder investigation, and is very much aware that the remainder of the Hudson gang is most likely to attempt to free their boss at any time. Suspense builds upon suspense as McCauley skillfully weaves his narrative at a remarkably well-established pace. There is plenty of action throughout the tale skillfully interwoven with genuine characterizations of believable people. As a series debut, “Blood On The Trail,” is a magnificent launch that only has us hoping the sequel isn’t too far off. This is what good Westerns are all about.