The first one took place in Arizona in the 1870’s. This one takes place about ten years later, in a time where the rails were arriving and changing the transport industry. Cowboys and ranchers faced dwindling job offers, and during the construction of the rails, the Chinese and Mexican Americans were getting paid much less and Native Americans were either chased out of their homes or killed. Nothing anyone can do about that now, but if Charlotte Vaughn were there, she’d have tried her best to document these calamities. She’s an aspiring reporter in a world where apart from one newspaper called the Yuma Inquirer who may or may not accept her, no one wants to hire a female journalist. She also has an abusive uncle breathing down her neck and her timid mother’s. Then one day she ends up faced at gunpoint in a train robbery orchestrated by Luther Rose’s gang, and the one who holds the gun is Reese Murphy, who is celebrating his eighteenth birthday this way. Reese is known as the Rose Kid, who ended up forced into the gang when he managed to save himself from being shot by the man he now refers to as Boss by saying he knows who killed his brother, Waylan Rose. When the two begin to cross paths, the two of them realize they might have to work together - and not enjoy it - to start the new lives out in the Wild West they’ve yearned for.
When an author writes with two different narrators, it’s important to keep them both different and enticing at the same time. Reese and Charlotte are perfect choices for Wild West heroes. What I enjoyed about Reese is his outlaw status, and due to the famous sundown draw, the Old West is certainly a good setting for making a fugitive have to stay extreme and agitated. We don’t witness the back story of how he became the Rose Kid and are instead drawn right into a big train robbery and the decision of speeding ahead could’ve not let us wear in the guy. But Bowman manages to keep his storyline suspenseful by first creating a big misunderstanding between the two protagonists and then lets us dive more into who he is, and we feel Reese may be the more mild-mannered one, which is refreshing when it comes to stories featuring a boy and girl at the helm. Charlotte is also a terrifically admirable investigative journalist, and I got the impression Bowman wrote her as someone anybody who feels the world is against them when they are the actual hard worker can relate to. In other words, us all. Her desire to be treated as well as men and to document the solid truth makes her a prideful and model character.
This book begins on a quote: Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves. This was written by Confucius, whoever that was. I somewhat enjoyed the recent western film called Hostiles, which has three horrible deaths over the course of a single minute. Retribution Rails includes deaths that might even shock some people about how instantaneous and how they emphasize Shakespeare’s “What’s-done-is-done”. One of the deaths was not treated as emotionally as I would’ve hoped, but that’s the one thing I can think of that was wrong with this book.
I later found out about a little gift Bowman gives readers who read Vengeance Road first, a treat that shows what fan service and good stories are all about. The relationship between Reese and Charlotte is never unbelievable, never sappy, and always realistic. Then the ending is also one of the most effectively suspenseful I’ve read in ages, while also actually being factually accurate. I couldn’t believe it myself until Bowman explained after the story was done. It also has a Shyamalan-esque sort of ending that goes beyond what generally effective endings tend to go for.
I couldn’t put Retribution Rails down, and when it was over, I was not only forever happy about my curiosity, I couldn’t wait to get back to the Taken trilogy, the other book in the duology, and her newest book, Contagion. Who ever said westerns were dead?