When I saw the advance reader’s copy of Robert J. Conley’s Rio Loco, I decided to request it because I realized I hadn’t read a western in a very long time. I really enjoyed this novel!
Conley is an award winning author who is very adept at making the Wild West come to life. It was a time when lives were often cut short, when differences of opinion were likely to be settled with a gun, and the physically strong and the devious were often the ones who survived. So, if you don’t like to read about hard drinking, foul language, cussing, killing, fornicating, and devious doings then steer clear of Rio Loco. It’s less like Rango and more like True Grit with an R rating, and a lot more cussing and other stuff. Make sure your six shooter is loaded and hop on board for a really fun read!
Marshall Barjack is also the owner of the Hooch House, the town’s saloon, where his glass is always kept full and his seat at his table is always kept empty and waiting for him. That’s also where his amply endowed sweetheart, Bonnie, reigns supreme. Barjack splits his time between his jailhouse office and his saloon table/office. He’s got two deputies who can generally take care of anything that needs taking care of at the jailhouse office and, of course, Bonnie and the bartender, Aubrey, can generally take care of most of what happens at the saloon. Barjack likes that situation just fine because it means business doesn’t cut into his drinking time. Barjack’s followed around by Dingle, a “writing feller” who puts everything down in his notebook.
“Dingle went to scribbling. He had done wrote three or four books about me, and we was both a-making money off of them.”
Barjack would rather not arrest Owl Shit, a drunken jackass, and he wouldn’t except Owl Shit just up and shot and killed a man in Barjack’s saloon right in front of Barjack’s eyes and the eyes of half the town. How dumb do you have to be to do a thing like that?
“Then I turned to Aubrey. ‘Aubrey, go find my two worthless depitties and send them down here right away. Bonnie,…you get behint the bar till Aubrey gets back….And while you’re out, send the damn undertaker down.’”
So Barjack’s left with no choice but to throw Owl Shit in jail, even if he is the baby brother of Chugwater, one of the area’s biggest and most influential ranch holders. Barjack sees that as being the heart of the problem. Chugwater has bribed, coerced and flat-out threatened anyone who’s ever tried to pin any crimes on Owl Shit and that means this drunken fool thinks he can get away with anything. Barjack has drawn a line in the sand because he can’t ignore it anymore. Now it’s a matter of principal. Killing a man in front of him and half the town can’t be swept under any rug and Barjack can’t just pretend it didn’t happen.
“’I’ll see you later,’ Chugwater said [to Owl Shit], and he spun around on his heel and headed for the door. He jerked the door open and turned to look at me once more. ‘You ain’t heard the last of this, Barjack,’ he said. ‘I never thought I had,’ I told him.”
And that’s what started this whole mess. Barjack is determined Owl Shit will stay in jail until his trial. Chugwater won’t back down in his determination to get his baby brother out of jail. People are getting shot at left and right, and somebody’s got to do something before this thing gets completely out of hand, if it hasn’t already. Barjack’s that somebody cause he’s the Marshall and no rancher is going to tell him how to run his town.
And so the games begin. It’s a giant chess game in which all the pieces have guns and their lives are on the line. Who is the most ruthless? Who can play this game the most steps ahead? Who is the most devious? Who has an ace up their sleeve?
Robert J. Conley brings such a feeling of authenticity to Rio Loco that you expect to hear spurs jangling, saloon doors swinging and tumbleweed rolling down the street. It kept me thoroughly entertained. It’s really violent but at times the dynamics were so funny that I had to laugh the same way I had to laugh during True Grit. I had no clue whether I’d like Rio Loco when I requested it but I did. This story doesn’t have a determined young woman in it like True Grit does. Its main characters are crusty but very interesting men, along with the minor characters of a sharp shooting woman and a saloon floozy. If there’s a redeeming female character in it, she’s probably the sharp shooter, who I really liked. Still it has a very authentic Wild West feel to it that some women will find appealing. I wouldn’t want a steady diet of this kind of novel but it was a fun change of pace.
Rio Loco was released on September 15, 2011, so it’s available from your favorite bookseller.
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