4 out of 4 stars
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A gripping tale from the wild west, this book has it all – gold, murder, cowboys and “Injuns”, a sordid love affair, and more! Clevenger Gold by S.E. Swapp is a compact and riveting fictionalized account of a real murder that took place in the late 1800s, the events that lead up to it, and the events that followed. This story also holds something beyond the page – the promise of a treasure lying still unfound, with clues to its location buried within the book for the ambitious and adventurous reader.
The story opens with a scene introducing two of the main characters – John and Frank, whom we find locked away in a jail cell preparing for an intense game of cards. The chapters that follow explain how the two men wound up in that cell.
Each of the men independently comes to join the Clevenger family as they travel north from Arizona, with the intention of arriving in the Washington territory. Sam Clevenger, the cantankerous head of the family, is traveling with his ailing wife and adopted teenage daughter with the intention of settling in the north, and hires both men to assist him on the journey. The events that follow are not what any of them signed up for.
Much like the beloved game The Oregon Trail, the travelers must deal with maintenance of their covered wagon, dangerous river crossings, hostile encounters with Native Americans, and supply shortages. The chapters take us through an account of the trip and its gruesome outcome, following each of the characters involved through the events and their aftermath. Each character is painted vividly, and despite the book being a fairly short read, the author successfully portrays their personalities in a way that leaves a memorable impression and allows the reader to understand the motivations behind their actions. The narrative is clear, engaging, and succinct, making this a quick and satisfying read.
This is a raw account of the wild west in all its dirty glory, complete with rather gruesome scenes of violence indicative of the instability of the times. Due to the detailed nature of the accounts of this violence, this book would not be appropriate for younger readers, or readers sensitive to gory detail. The character dialogue and represented dialects are authentic to the time period, which at times manifests as racist speech by the characters in the story – something that readers should be prepared for. The story ends with a solid conclusion that ties up just enough of the loose ends to answer any lingering questions about the case, while leaving open the possibility that a hidden treasure may in fact be waiting for some lucky individual at an old and forgotten campsite in the Northern Arizona Buckskin mountains. I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars, and recommend it to lovers of westerns, and people looking for a quick, fun, and intriguing work of historical fiction.
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