After a bad start, Peter Grant did it. Rocky Mountain Retribution proved to be far better than his original Walt Ames novel, Brings the Lightning (reviewed here.) In fact, one can read Retribution as a standalone since not much happens in the first book. It is clear that he learned from his mistakes and did better, way better. This book simply blows the previous entry out of the water.
In this sequel, Walt Ames and his wife Rose open a business out west transporting freight — and business is good…until a robber attempts to steal his horse. Walt kills the robber and his accomplices, attracting the ire of Bart Furlong, baddest bandit in the West. Furlong, however, has someone backing him, someone far more cunning than a mere gunslinger.
The story is written as a mystery, with Walt investigating the people behind his robbery and the complex schemes the bad guys use to hide their ill-gotten gains. Gone are the extended packing sessions and long stretches of nothing happening; every chapter advances the plot in some way and adds dramatic tension to what is going on, and just when you think everything is going well for Walt, something hits him like a hammer (those of you who read it know what I mean.) Walt and his crew are portrayed as skilled, but never as unbeatable supermen; you always get the sense that Walt can be cut down if he isn’t careful.
The reader will notice a large number of blacks among Walt’s crew; what seems like a politically correct interpretation of the Old West is, in fact, pretty close to reality, as the author points out in the afterword. One has to keep in mind that Hollywood westerns and spaghetti westerns are not historical documents that scrupulously show the truths of those times, but dramatizations colored by the biases of their producers.
Unlike the first book, I didn’t find much fault with this one; the only real criticism I have is that the villain should’ve been introduced a bit earlier. However, that’s just a nitpick — the story works fine as it does, and an early chapter effectively summarizes Brings the Lightning.
All in all, I recommend this book — whether or not you read the previous one.