A good portion of this does take place on a ranch in the country, so . . .
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.
Do not let the blurb on the back cover deter, you do not have to have read the other books in the series to understand what is going on in the book. While there are two non-central characters from other books in the series, a detailed back story is not given nor needed. Therefore, if you are new to the adventures of Ben January, you can start here and not be lost.
The book is at first a basic search and rescue Western as Ben, Hannibal, and Shaw struggle to save a young woman. This part of the novel is told with a great deal of vigor, and highlights the need for someone to produce a television series based on this excellent series. Hambly’s know ledge of history serves her in good stead, and the details of Texas before Union as well as the reactions of the characters. Things get complicated quickly and Ben and Hannibal find themselves at a center of a mystery involving an old acquittance and the death of her husband.
What makes the series so good is that Hambly captures the confront that Ben undoubtedly feels. He is an educated man who must pretend, time and again to be something other than what he is because he risks death. But it makes him more sympathetic to the nuances that exist in relationships, in particular to how those play out with women.
And that is what at the heart of the novel. It isn’t just Valentina who finds herself accused of murder, but also her in-laws and the young woman who is the original target of Ben’s quest. While the book addresses the lack of option available to women in the 1840s, much of the subject matter is also closely related to women of today and highlights aspects of the MeToo Movement. The plot directly addresses how different people, let alone genders, respond to and see rape. It is those different responses to sexual assaults -both on men and women (though the men get shorter shift in the book) as well as the long-lasting damage that such assaults can cause.
The book also works very well as a thriller western and is particularly gripping when it comes to the pursuits. The plot also makes good use of the historical Texas political situation, with the conflict of total independence or joining the United States. The use of historical detail and the humanness of the characters is a hallmark of this series.