Title: According to Hoyle
Author: Abigail Roux
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Historical (1880s America) Western/Action/Romance
Length: Novel (244 PDF pages)
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: By far among the best books I’ve read this year.
By the close of 1882, the inhabitants of the American West had earned their reputation as untamed and dangerous. The line between heroes and villains is narrow and indistinct. The concept that a man may only kill if backed into a corner is antiquated. Lives are worth less than horses. Treasures are worth killing for. And the law is written in the blood of those who came before. The only men staving off total chaos are the few who take the letter of the law at its word and risk their lives to uphold it. But in the West, the rules aren’t always played according to Hoyle.
US Marshals Eli Flynn and William Henry Washington are escorting two prisoners to New Orleans for trial when they discover there’s more to the infamous shootist Dusty Rose and the enigmatic man known only as Cage than merely being outlaws. When forces beyond the marshals’ control converge on the paddlewheeler they have hired to take them downriver, they must choose between two dangers: playing by the rules at any cost or trusting the very men they are meant to bring to justice.
I am a big fan of this author, and just about everything I’ve read from her has been a winner for me. According to Hoyle is not an exception and the extremely well-written novel didn’t disappoint on any level. It’s by far among the best books I’ve read this year and will surely make my Top Ten list in December.
Set in 1882, the story opens with a shady meeting in Denver between three men. Government man Baird is looking to hire the other two for a tricky job involving an Indian artifact, and while mercenary Stringer considers the offer, infamous gunslinger “Dusty” Rose wants no part, and he is able to make an escape from certain deadly consequences of saying “no” during an Act of God. Skip ahead a month to Lincoln, Nebraska, where long-time friends and US Marshals Washington and Flynn are getting ready to escort three prisoners to their next destinations. Among the detainees are the charismatic Rose and an enigmatic mute, Cage, who seem to form a bond on the way to the confusion and perhaps jealousy of Flynn and the seeming delight of Wash. Flynn seems to have a very low-level attraction to his partner, yet even though such dalliances are not unheard of — and even somewhat common — west of the Mississippi, he doesn’t understand it nor would he ever act upon it. The days of travel are rough, with the five men often at each others’ throats. After delivering one of the prisoners to St. Louis, the four remaining of their party — Flynn, Wash, Cage and Rose — board a paddle/steam boat to New Orleans, only to have the unexpected happen. The situation is perilous and the Marshals must decide if they can trust their charges to help get them through.
While I may be a bit vague in this review as I don’t want to include spoilers, I want to be clear that I loved this book. I was engrossed from the first page and found it difficult to put down when I needed to. This is both character- and plot-driven, wonderfully historically detailed with little tidbits, sayings and slang of the time, and never once did I question the accuracy. I can imagine the research Roux had to go through to create this one.
Strong, three-dimensional characters with great dynamics are just one of the reasons I loved this book. The four protags have their own well-developed personalities, and we get to know them quite well via Flynn and Cage’s third-person narration (we also get glimpses into the Baddies’ minds as well along the way). I’d be hard-pressed to decide who was my favorite, I liked them all so much. Patient, compassionate and fair Wash is at times in direct contraction to cynical, stubborn and by-the-book Flynn, but you can see why they’re friends. Mysterious and mute Cage, a man desperately trying to reinvent himself, was interesting to me as we can only get to know him though his thoughts. But the self-deprecating and gentlemanly killer Rose charmed me perhaps more than the others, with his witty and sophisticated personality, dandy appearance, his dichotomous nature and his (self) interest in laying as low as possible.
I especially loved watching the interaction between Flynn and Rose, with much of the comic moments stemming from their discussion, arguments and scuffles. And I really liked watching Flynn work out changing his opinion about Rose, who he can barely stand, but grudgingly self-admits to respecting. Rose ironically challenges him to be a see everything in a different light, especially after they are forced to work together.
A complex plot, a smattering of humor and attention to detail add to the satisfying reading experience. The romance is wonderfully understated and the smexxin nonexistent until the very end, but it all worked for me perfectly. The ending is left wide open for a sequel and I am guessing that mystery of the artifact will be answered then.
Oh, and there is a hilarious little exchange about Billy the Kid that had me snickering.
If you haven’t already done so and are in the mood for a fabulous historical western/action/romance, run on over to Dreamspinner and snatch this one up.