Book review: North of Forsaken by Matthew P. Mayo
North of Forsaken is the second book in Mayo’s all-action Roamer Western series featuring the exceedingly ugly, antisocial hero Scorfano, nicknamed Roamer by his long-time buddy Maple Jack because of his nomadic lifestyle. A tough, six-foot four loner with ‘vile features’ – a cleft lip, ‘pocked cheeks,’ an ‘oft-broken nose,’ a ‘blocky head,’ and beady, deep-set eyes – Roamer exhibits the sort of demeanour that is more associated with ‘outlaws and bad men thinking bad thoughts and doing dark deeds.’
Trouble tends to follow him ‘like a half-starved dog after a meat wagon’ and he arouses suspicion in townsfolk wherever he goes.
In the previous novel, Wrong Town, published by Robert Hale in 2008, the luckless hero was mauled by a grizzly bear, robbed by callous bandits, and then jailed for a murder he didn’t commit. Ill fortune follows him once more in this newest adventure, set three years later.
When he makes an unfortunate supply stop at ‘the grubby little flyblown town of Forsaken,’ Roamer is recognised by an arrogant young dandy named Thomas, the younger brother he hasn’t seen for fifteen years.
Thomas is unaware that they share the same parents, something Roamer considers ‘nothing he ever need know.’ Having been disowned at birth by his parents, ‘ignored as the firstborn son,’ Roamer was given to the head cook Mimsy and raised by this harsh woman as an orphaned servant boy in his own ancestral home. When he discovered the harsh secret, he promptly packed his bags and ran away, aged thirteen, never to return.
Thomas’ unexpected appearance serves only to reawaken repressed childhood memories and add unwanted complications to Roamer’s life. In fact, within hours of this chance meeting, Roamer is assaulted in the street, imprisoned on trumped-up charges and ‘railroaded’ into acting as an escort to his brother and a pretty yet shady woman named Carla who Thomas met on the stagecoach.
Feeling an obligation to his brother for bailing him out of jail, concerned for the boy’s safety and wary of Carla, whom he believes is a gold digger, Roamer agrees to lead their expedition north in search of property Thomas has recently inherited. He is also curious to see his brother’s inheritance, substantial land that is rightfully Roamer’s.
They quickly discover that they are being pursued by a ruthless gang of cut-throats, led by ‘a burly cow of a woman,’ intent on stealing the deeds and claiming the land for themselves.
Fortunately, for the reader as much as the trio, part way through this exciting, violent, and remarkably perilous journey, the crotchety old-timer Maple Jack decides to take part in the action. Jack, a trapper from New England who has become a reclusive mountain man, is a familiar face in Mayo’s work, having appeared in a number of the author’s short stories. He plays a welcome larger role in this tale, providing some much-needed humour to the proceedings.
At one point, the grizzled, plucky old man is beaten unconscious, trussed up ‘tighter than bark on birch,’ and trapped in a burning log cabin. The only thing this accomplishes is to give Jack a ‘frazzled head’ and provide him with enough good material for yet another of his rambling tales.
Solidly entertaining, and with a strong line-up of cold-blooded villains, North of Forsaken marks the long overdue return of Roamer, Mayo’s most noteworthy lead character. Expect plenty of gunplay, ambushes, bloody corpses and thrilling shootouts.
(Five Star, hardcover, £21.00)