I have decided to post here a bit of commentary that I wrote for the Leisure Books (Dorchester Publishing) website when the book came out in 2006.
Raven Springs is my fourteenth traditional western novel and the third in my mini-series about Jimmy Clevis, the good-natured cowboy who finds himself having to solve mysterious connections and disappearances. The main reason I wanted to write this novel was that I like Jimmy as a character and I did not feel I was done with him when I finished Rancho Alegre. I think of him as a character who has his own life and who holds some enduring interest for readers.
In spite of having lived on the shady side of the law himself, Jimmy is a principled character. In Raven Springs, some friends of his ask him to help find out what happened to a man who disappeared, and even though he doesn’t have any great friendship with the man who has turned up missing, he agrees to help. Once he starts out, of course, he sticks with it.
One problem in the world of this novel is that most people don’t care very much about others. Even more pointedly, they are prejudiced against non-whites and others who are not like them. That makes Jimmy’s task more difficult, because the man he is looking for is a Mexican. Some of the people he meets along the way are antagonistic to that idea, and others are apathetic at best.
The biggest problem that Jimmy uncovers is the cold-blooded way in which people exploit the lives of others. It becomes apparent that travelers get done in because they have a little money, or the appearance of it. Jimmy also discovers the possibility that someone has been exploiting young girls and then doing away with them. In addition, people who might know anything about any of these disappearances also become homicide victims. The people behind these deeds seem to have no conscience, while Jimmy does.
I hope part of the reader’s interest in this story comes from wanting to see how Jimmy puts things together and tries to bring evil to light. I hope another part comes from the reader’s willingness to measure his or her own values against those suggested by the story. This is not what people call a morality tale, but it does suggest that there is such a thing as evil in the world and that there is something like a hierarchy or scale of greater and lesser wrongs. Jimmy has his scale of value just as the reader has his or hers, and I hope the reader finds it interesting to consider whether justice gets served.
Naturally, I also hope people enjoy following Jimmy Clevis through another chapter of life. I hope they enjoy his world view, his observations about life as it comes his way, and his comments about his own adventures. When I first started planning out the idea of a series of stories about Jimmy, I imagined him as a kind of traditional, straight-talking detective narrator, but not the real hard-boiled, hard-hitting, hard-drinking type we meet in urban dramas. Jimmy is what some people would call an amateur detective, and he is a little more genial than the guy with a necktie, a two-day stubble, and a pint of rye. As he himself mentions from time to time, he likes to eat, drink, and be merry, and sometimes his relaxed enjoyment gets him into trouble.
As reviewers have pointed out, Jimmy is a less-than-perfect character, and I hope readers can relate to a fellow who doesn’t always do everything perfectly but who tries to stick to his principles. Early on in the story, Jimmy has a conversation with an older cynical man named Tom, a character who appears in Red Wind Crossing and Rancho Alegre as well as here. Their dialogue goes like this:
“. . . No need to get yourself hurt just because you think someone expects it of you.”
“No, I’ve thought about it in my own way, and it seems like the right thing to do. I’ve got this task, and I want to follow through with it. If something’s not right, I want to find out why.”
“You’re a regular crusader, aren’t you?”
“No, just a fool.”
“There are worse kinds.”
Jimmy’s classification of himself as a fool is an example of his droll view of his life; many of us have used the same kind of self-criticism, and the worldly-wise answer, as offered by Tom, is something we don’t mind hearing. I hope Jimmy’s story, and his way of telling it, speaks to readers, as I imagine there is a little bit of Jimmy Clevis in a great many of us.
As an after-note, I would like to mention that Raven Springs was selected as a finalist for the annual Western Writers of America Spur Awards in the Mass Market Paperback Original category in 2008. Jimmy Clevis has gone on to appear in a couple of short stories entitled “Rose of Durango” and “Monroy’s Daughters,” and there is always a possibility that he will saddle up again one of these days and hit the trail of adventure.
Raven Springs is available at Amazon.