HARD COUNTRY by Michael McGarrity
The publication of a new Michael McGarrity novel was something I was excitedly looking forward to, a book I expected to find a relaxing pleasure to read. I started to read Hard Country the day it arrived from the publisher – but within a few pages I realized that this book was not a new installment in the Kevin Kearney mystery series.
Disappointed, I put it aside. But, after a day, I couldn’t forget the characters I had met so briefly and went back to it. Hard Country is a novel about the lives of ranchers and cowboys in the American southwest, in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Michael McGarrity has explored this history using the ancestors of his fictional detective, Kevin Kearney. And I have to say, as much as I missed Kevin Kearney, I found myself totally involved in the “lives” of his grandparents and great-grandparents.
If you have not read any of Michael McGarrity’s books, begin with the first in the series, Tularosa, where we meet Kevin Kearney for the first time. He is a former police detective who left the force after a serious injury. Drawn back into detective work to help a friend, he would much rather be spending his time on the ranch. But drawn back in he is, and his life is forever changed and he carries on solving crimes through several more novels. Set in the Santa Fe region, the descriptions of the landscape are as satisfying as the murder mystery that takes place in each of novel, and I think I can guarantee you’ll be reading the whole series.
Hard Country follows the Kearney family through several generations. These are men who work hard for a living in a hard country. They are true cowboys out on the range, surviving attacks from the Indians and the likes of Billy the Kid. We see the country change as it becomes more “civilized” and when the railroad comes so do more people and small settlements become towns, changing the way of life for the early settlers.
I think men who traditionally read classic western novels will find Michael McGarrity a pleasant discovery if they do not already know his books. Hard Country reminded me of the Zane Grey novels I read one summer when I was a young teenager while visiting my Great-Uncle’s cottage in the Muskokas. There are also women in this story, and their lives as the cowboy’s wives and daughters are often hard, some are treated well, many are not.
With a background in social work, followed by a career as deputy sheriff of Santa Fe Country, Michael McGarrity knows both the country and the people.
Hard Country was a satisfying novel, enough suspense to keep it moving along, and truly fascinating history. I do hope though, now that Michael McGarrity has this story out of his system, he will next bring us another featuring Kevin Kearney.