Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mariner Valley by James Crawford

A while back I read, enjoyed and reviewed a novel for a new author. When he asked me to review his science fiction novel, it sounded like fun, so I had him ship me a copy, which I read while I was hanging out at my friend's mountain cabin, fishing for a few days.

Mariner Valley is a well-written tale with a classic story line. In fact, I'm fairly certain I've seen it in various incarnations a number of times, as a Western movie. A lawman from a frontier town is getting ready to move back to the big city, but when the daughter of local officials is raped and murdered, he is convinced to saddle up one last time to go hunt down the dirty rotten scoundrels who did the deed, then hightailed it for the border. He gathers up a posse and they ride out through the dust and the sandstorms and hostile conditions, encountering various obstacles along the way, until at last they catch up with the crooks and have a shootout.

Am I right?

Ok, so the small frontier town is on the planet Mars, and the lawman, Benjamin O'Ryan, is getting ready to return to Earth, when the powers that be beg him to take on the task of hunting down a gang of vicious criminals led by a man named Lansing. He gathers up a crew of auxiliary police force (deputies?) and a few regulars and they jump in rovers to chase after the gang, who are trying to reach Russian territory, where they believe they will be safe from prosecution.

There is just about the right amount of exposition about Mars, its moons, the environment on the surface so that it never bogs down, delivered by various methods, such as when one of the, er, posse members turns out to be an amateur astronomer and gives a short lecture in the midst of casual conversation, or when we learn all about the criminals in the gang when O'Ryan goes over their dossiers in a briefing with his people. There are a few other instances where the massive data dump is skillfully avoided, while giving us the information we need to believe we're along on this Martian expedition.

Some of Ben's crew have some authority issues, and one of them may be a secret drug addict, which could pose a security risk, and he stumbles into some extra complication when he and one of his deputies, Beth, manage to stumble into a relationship while on their mission. He also has to fight his people's and his own tendencies to take matters of vengeance into their own hands when they finally do catch up to the gang, as both we and they have been treated to further atrocities left behind by Lansing's men. There's even a good barroom brawl scene, just to add to the Western flavor.

A good read, a good first effort. Let's hope Mr. Crawford writes a few more, as I could definitely see a series in the works for Inspector O'Ryan.

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