The Mavericks, Leigh Greenwood’s recent novel set in the Old West, is the latest in The Cowboys series, stories about a family of a dozen adopted boys, most of whom have already been featured in books of their own. This one is unusual as it tells the story of two of these brothers, with each of them having equal importance in the story.
Hawk and Zeke Maxwell are making their way through the Arizona territory of 1888 with several mares they have purchased for their new ranch near Tombstone. Raised by loving adoptive parents, they bonded over the years as they both felt they didn’t fit in society because of their backgrounds: Hawk is half-Comanche and half white, and Zeke was a slave as a young boy until he was set free. They’ve decided to work as partners on their ranch instead of seeking wives and settling down with families.
Meanwhile, Suzette Chatingy and Josie Morgan are dancehall girls traveling by wagon to Tombstone where they hope to find work at the famous Birdcage Saloon. Suzette is a French-Canadian widow who must earn money to keep her younger sister in school in Quebec and to enable her to make a good marriage, while Josie ran away from home after the death of her mother, a former slave whose owner married her after the war and brought her west.
When the ladies’ wagon loses a wheel, Zeke and Hawk conveniently come along and help them repair it. Although Josie and Suzette are reluctant to have anything to do with men, they agree to their offer of escort along the many miles to Tombstone. As the foursome slowly make their way south toward Tombstone and the ranch, each character’s motives for being unwilling to fall in love and get married becomes clearer. However, Hawk is unable to deny the attraction he feels for Suzette, and although it is mutual she is unable to forget her obligation to her sister. Josie, who is extraordinarily beautiful, has learned to distrust men and their motives, but she must eventually admit that Zeke is undeserving of the hostility with which she constantly treats him.
The Mavericks didn’t take long to read, though it seemed endless due to its many flaws of both writing and plotting. The dialogue was stilted and unrealistic in many places. The writing was repetitive, such as repeated references to Josie’s beauty, even though no actual description of her is given, or the fact that, although he lives like a white man in all other ways, Hawk wears a feather in his hair to denote his lineage. Many mentions of these issues and others are given, but the subjects aren’t delved into any more deeply.
The sexual attraction between Josie and Zeke, and between Hawk and Suzette was intense, but it came about so quickly that it seemed based on appearance only, which made it more difficult later in the story to believe that their feelings ran deep. I felt the conflicts, on the whole, were contrived. The moment they all met, they each began to panic at the assumption that their partner-to-be might fall in love with them or want to marry them, when they had their lives planned out differently. Josie’s antagonism towards Zeke in particular was extreme and seemed more like immaturity or irrationality than legitimate concern, and I couldn’t see why he’d fallen for her.
And finally, although there wasn’t enough plot for two separate books, the fact that there were two couples whose stories needed to be written didn’t leave room for sufficient character development. None of the characters were truly dynamic. The point of view switches so often that it was difficult to keep track of any particular character. And certain issues were never adequately addressed, like the societal consequences of Hawk’s half-Comanche heritage, or of Josie’s mother being black and her father being white.
The strongest point of the book was the descriptions of the setting. It takes place in the Arizona high desert in the springtime, when water still flows in riverbeds and flowers are in bloom. It’s apparent that the author knows what he is talking about, and his love for the region comes through clearly.
I will admit that, after the numerous mentions of family members throughout the book as well as the family tree included at the beginning, my interest is piqued enough to take a look at some of the other books in the series to see how those relationships develop. Greenwood has so many books published I can only hope that some of them are better written.