Book review: Timberline by Matthew P. Mayo
A train journey through northern Oregon turns deadly when thieves blow a safe and set fire to the train, leaving passengers fighting for survival in blizzard conditions.
Exciting new western Timberline, the third instalment of Matthew P. Mayo’s action-packed Roamer series, finds his hapless, nomadic protagonist in high danger once more, this time while travelling by railroad to meet his long-time friend and mentor, ‘crusty old mountain man’ Maple Jack.
Having completed the final leg of his short-term work as a teamster for a freighting company, transporting farming supplies through western America, Roamer is looking forward to resuming his itinerant way of life, leisurely journeying north westward from Montana to Salish Lake with Jack.
In possession of a large supply of newly purchased classic novels to see him through the long train journey, Roamer is so engrossed in Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo that he doesn’t pay sufficient attention to the troublesome characters on board.
It isn’t long before a group of thieves blow the safe, kill the train crew, and overpower Roamer, striking him unconscious. They then set the passenger car on fire and take off with a beautiful female passenger, leaving the other commuters trapped inside the burning train while a frightful blizzard rages outside.
Roamer, a tough, six-foot-four drifter with a grotesque face that induces fear in others, is accustomed to finding himself in dangerous situations. He is a man who once fought a grizzly bear with his bare hands and came out on top.
However, in this gritty, harsh and fast snow-bound tale, he is severely tested by the unforgiving weather and a despicable killer who will shoot dead anything that gets in his way while he flees across mountain passes with his ill-gotten loot and pretty hostage.
After helping save passengers and put out the fire, Roamer sets out into the heavy snow, with the wind raking his face ‘like the frozen claws of some great ice beast,’ undertaking an arduous and perilous search for the killer and his gang, desperately hoping he can rescue the woman before tragedy strikes.
Ill-equipped for the venture and impeded by the treacherous mountain environment and savage wildlife, the challenging mission seems almost beyond his abilities.
Fortunately, the ‘tough as a handful of hot nails’ Maple Jack, fretful that Roamer hasn’t arrived at their rendezvous on time, decides to track down his buddy. With the speed and stealth of a mountain tiger, he makes his way to Roamer when his friend needs his help the most.
Together, the fearless duo trail their quarry to a curious, abandoned mountain town that once had a river of sapphires running through it. Like the town’s residents before them, Jack and Roamer’s fortunes take a sudden turn for the worse and, rather than striving to rescue a helpless woman, they find themselves in a desperate battle to save each other.
A past winner of the Western Writers of America’s Spur Award for Best Western Novel, Mayo is a dab hand at carving out enthralling stories set in the American Old West. In keeping with other Roamer adventures, Timberline is a nimbly told tale of rough justice and frontier survival with fierce action, intense danger, and high-grade excitement. A rousing, first-rate read!
(Five Star, hardback, £19.95)