Title: Cactus Jumpers
Author: Andrew Burch
Publisher: Dorrance Publishing
Reviewed by: John Murray
Hollywood Book Reviews
The western genre has lasted so long for a good reason. While these books feature the cliché macho heroes, six shooters blazing, horseback chases, and stark landscapes, the main appeal is the triumph of good over evil. A code of morality and one man who stands against what he knows to be wrong. Cactus Jumpers by Andrew Burch continues that tradition beautifully.
Emerald, California serves as the dusty backdrop. It’s a relatively small town but populated with a variety of colorful characters. The starring cast is Skip Traeger, Moss Williams, and Emmett Brady. Brady’s life had its ups and downs from working in a carnival to nearly dying in the scorching desert, now he’s Emerald’s sole clergyman. Traeger rose to power after his father’s death to become a powerful tycoon whose reach is slowly extending out. Williams is the iconic marshal and family man with a heavy burden on his shoulders. A ghastly discovery rocks the town to its core and shifts the narrative from typical western to murder mystery that threatens to destroy the town.
Character development is the shining star in this story. Nearly every character is fully fleshed out with deep-seated motivations and desires. Few of the large cast are relegated to cliché stereotypes. When the narrative shifts into a murder mystery, the shock and resulting turmoil feels realistic. Brady serves as the perfect example of this. The murder rattles his town and puts the people under his authority in disarray. Once it becomes clear who the murderer is, Brady knows the battle is uphill and will end in violence and bloodshed. But his moral code and the gold star on his chest won’t let him let the pursuit of justice die.
One of the more refreshing aspects is the use of time. This is a realistic novel with seemingly accurate timelines. The body is discovered and weeks go by between discoveries such as contacting relatives or interviewing locals that adds credibility to the story. Nothing happens rapidly or is forced in to fit the narrative. Things unfold in their own time and in between the action parts, characters are given room to grow and develop. All of which really helps create a dynamic world with consequences that matter.
Some minor hiccups detract from the story. The overall book would benefit from editing polish to fix some grammar and formatting issues. For instance, a dialogue section randomly transitions from traditional dialogue tags to jarring script-like asides. Missing punctuation and overall awkward prose could be fixed up fairly easily giving this story a finished shine to help reach a wider audience.
Cactus Jumpers is an interesting take on the western genre featuring a world with vibrant characters and pits flawed men against a rigid morality code with a town’s fate hanging in the balance.