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Terrance McCauley's Blood On The Trail is the first western in series to feature Deputy U.S. Marshall Jeremiah Halstead. McCaulley spun him off from his Sheriff Aaron Mackey series and the book shares some traits with the ones of that series. However, in the younger lawman we get a different perspective of the time and place.

As he often does, McCauley tosses us in the middle of the action on the first page with Halstead ducking bullets on horseback.He's taking outlaw John Hudson to trial and his gang is dead set on getting him back. He outrides his pursuers with the prisoner, but he hasn't lost them.

He seeks sanctuary in the mining town of Silver Cloud, planning to jail Hudson while he and the local law take care of the rest of the gang. The only problem is the local sheriff refuses to give assistance, even though he feels Halstead needs to help him with his outlaw problem. Hudson's men ease in, with second in command Ed Zimmeran less interested in rescuing his leader than killing him to take his place. Halstead finds himself in the middle of switching alliances with only the local barkeep to trust.

Silver Cloud is a place much in the same vein as High Noon's Hadleyville or High Plains Drifter's Lago. The sheriff warns Halsted not to be taken by it's pretty name, Corruption is king and there are few upright and courageous citizens to be found. They often refer to the part Mexican Halstead as a half-breed, mistaking him for the half to be American Indian. It's no wonder the marshall has to put up his fists or pull his pistols often during his stay.

McCauley portrays the young marshal as a hero in the making. His mixed race and youth have placed a slight chip on his shoulder with something to prove. He doesn't have Mackey's understanding of town politics that the older lawman can reluctantly apply. The two are even different in a gunfight. Halstead proves less deliberate, relying more on speed than strategy. He understands this himself, relying on his aptitude to survive as he learns to become more skilled.

With Blood On The Trail, McCauley gives an update to the fifties style western. Like the best of the era, he delivers sly social commentary, an upright hero who is probably safer in the wilderness than he is in "civilization", Halstead is a hero you want to get behind, go up against the types you want to see get shot. The author portrays it all with dark humor and quick, brutal, stylish violence.


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