Sunday, August 02, 2009

Merry #@%^&!! Christmas, Skye Fargo!

North Country Cutthroats
by Jon Sharpe
The Trailsman #314
Berkley Books

While I haven’t read many Trailsman books, it isn’t hard to imagine that North Country Cutthroats is about as Christmasy as it gets for series hero Skye Fargo.

It’s a few days before Christmas and Skye has gotten caught by a snowstorm in Brule City and has taken a job as a shotgun rider for a stage company. It happens that an old friend of Skye’s is the driver for the stage, a big brute of a fellow named Grizzly Olafson. Olafson is a broad, brawling character, full of deep laughs, bear hugs, and endless appetites. But he’s a loyal friend.

The story is straightforward. The pair have to get the stage to Devil’s Lake by Christmas despite heavy snow, delivering a few passengers and a strongbox filled with the payroll for the nearby Army fort. This month’s anonymous "Jon Sharpe" adds a touch of mystery by adding a Russian beauty to the passenger manifest, a woman whose constant furtive glances and sudden reactions lead Skye to believe she’s running from someone.

Driving in thick snow can be problematic. I’ve never had the opportunity to be on a stagecoach in winter, but the author and I seem to agree that you just can’t do it with wheels. So he has Olafson remove the wheels and attach heavy skis to the stage. Maybe this was done at some point in history, maybe not. It doesn’t really matter, though, as it’s just a devise to move the plot forward.

As usual, there are four or five sex scenes in the book. What I like about these scenes is that the women are as mercenary about sex as is Skye Fargo. Whether driven by lust or other motives, they all but rape our hero.

The Russian gal runs hot and cold toward Skye, though, depending on what has spooked her at that moment. The wife of an Army lieutenant has designs on our hero almost from the start. But after he rescues her from a clumsy rape attempt by some rough edged cowboys, she cannot wait to yank down his drawers.

Turns out, though, she isn’t married to the soldier, and he isn’t a lieutenant. They are on the stage to rob it of the strongbox. And while she says she wanted to bed Skye before killing him, she just can’t bring herself to pull the trigger. It’s a fatal mistake. When Skye catches up to her, he has no trouble drilling her with his .44. No euphamism in this.

Other adventures await on the trip. The strongbox is a considerable magnet for thieves, despite the fact that Olafson says he’s never had trouble on the stage run. Skye handles all problems that arise, although it isn’t easy for him. Rather than being a superman, he works hard to stay alive and fulfill his charge, overcoming setback after setback.

The end is worth forgetting, however. Turns out the Russian gal is being followed. Other Russians want her dead, and want to get her large, heavy trunk. (Again, no euphamism here.) Skye figured there was some sort of treasure inside the trunk. Instead of gold, though, the Russian girl has been hauling dirt from the motherland. She wants to grow the finest roses, just like her mother had done, and so she has taken dirt from her flower bed, and rocks from her rock garden, to use in the new country. Of course, why the Russian bad guys have been chasing her and trying to kill Skye is never explained. Maybe, like the Christmas "theme," it just doesn’t matter.

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