Not a Rustler is my eighteenth traditional western novel. It was published in February 2010 by Leisure Books (Dorchester Publishing). In this book I tried to maintain continuity with my previous two westerns, in which I worked at straightforward action with strong elements of character and landscape.
In Not a Rustler, the main character is caught between his sympathy with small ranchers and his obligations to the big rancher he works for. For a good part of the story, Spencer Prescott has a hunch that the big ranchers have conspired to hire a gunman to pick off some of the smaller operators, but he doesn’t have any proof, and he doesn’t want to put himself in the killer’s gunsights. He also develops an interest in the widow of one of the small ranchers who get killed. This complication allows someone to start rumors that Spencer might have had a motive to knock off the woman’s husband. It also pushes Spencer to try to do more than he might otherwise.
Things become more complicated when someone kills one of the big cattlemen. Murder has struck on both sides of the conflict, and whoever is promulgating rumors now puts it out that Spencer might have had a revenge motive for killing the more prestigious cattlemen.
Before too long, it becomes evident that Spencer is the next one on the hit man’s list. He realizes that someone doesn’t like him asking questions and finding out connections, and he figures that some party or parties would like him dead so that he will not be able to defend himself when someone tries to pin one or more of the other murders on him.
Although this may seem a bit convoluted, I think it is a realistic reflection of what happens in real life. When people who want to be controlling the show decide to put blame on someone, they don’t hesitate to smear the person one way and then the other, even if the smear jobs contradict one another. They also do not hesitate to ruin people’s lives and careers, as they do not grant their victims the basic decency they deserve.
Meanwhile, Spencer is on his own, as he figures that the men from his own outfit are out to get him. So he has to learn more about the murky machinations of big cattlemen bumping off small cattlemen and then taking their land, and then he has to deal with the conspirators in proper order.
As I wrote this novel, I cared about the character and the friendships he gets into—his relationships with the honest small rancher, with the man’s wife, with other ranch hands, and even with the wife of the prosperous cattleman who catches a bullet. I also cared about the horses Spencer rides and the land he rides across. But most of all, I cared about a topic that often keeps me going—the injustice of people of influence sharing their power, suborning hatchet men to do the dirty work, and denigrating and destroying people who stand in the way. I come back to this topic from time to time, not because it is an easy story line but because it is a topic I do not quit caring about. When I wrote this book, I thought that having the protagonist bring down one hired killer could make this novel lift. I hope it does.
Not a Rustler is available at Amazon.