HoneyBeeRedFlower0044 copy-2Horse Hunts, A Smoke Tree Mystery Series Novella by Gary J. George is heavy on plot and details, many repetitive and extraneous, but very light on characterization.

The story starts off immediately with the initiating incident which is encouraging. A agricultural inspection officer is shot in Vidal Junction, near the California/Arizona state line, when he asks to inspect the contents of a driver’s trunk. The assailant then flees driving on Highway 95 until his car breaks down, which he abandons and walks into the desert.

The protagonist, Lieutenant Carlos Caballo, aka “Horse”, the commander of the Smoke Tree substation of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s department, gets the call to investigate. In the trunk of the abandoned car he finds the body of a dead woman, who turns out to be the driver’s wife.

Good premise and established quickly.

The story is realistically portrayed and the police procedure credible. There are some nice descriptive passages about the desert landscape and interesting insights into “man tracking” as Horse leads his deputies into the wilderness after the suspect.

Tracking, however, is not very exciting action and a little goes a long way, and there’s a lot about tracking.

The novella really begins to unravel when it switches into the point of view of the suspect, Harvey Vickers. The character is clichéd and one-dimensional. He appears almost a to be a person of diminished mental capacity. Once in the desert though, Vickers becomes very astute in attempting to conceal his trail. The reader wonders where the moron learned this stuff.

There’s a huge chunk of unmotivated backstory about Vicker’s childhood (none about desert survival though), which again is clichéd and one-dimensional. A better writer could have used this info dump to develop the antagonist’s character, but as it is it just slows the narrative.

Despite the many hours together in the wilderness tracking a desperado, you never get a sense of a relationship between Horse and his younger deputies. The extent of the relationship with his wife is equally shallow, with Horse describing himself as “lucky to have the love of this good woman.” With his dead father he all he can remember is “how much he missed that good man, taken from his family so young.”

Half way through this story, the author introduces a new character, Joe Medrano. Joe is a recluse and one of the few surviving members of the Chemehuevi tribe. He really serves no other purpose than to allow the author to expound upon the wrongs perpetrated by the federal government against Indians, and this tribe specifically.

This is actually an interesting bit of history and could have been developed into subplot especially if it was subtly inserted by Joe, instead of pontificated by Horse.

Unfortunately, the way it is presented by George it appears only as author intrusion.

One of the problems throughout the story is over-explaining. It is really apparent near the end when Horse uses military tactic he describes as “fire and movement”. First he explains this tactic to his deputy in detail, than he carries out the tactic explaining again in detail what is transpiring. This need to make sure the reader “gets it” really detracts from the climax of the story.

Reading fiction is an emotional experience, or at least it should be. Emotion is best conveyed through the relationships between characters. George needs to develop his characters so they are three-dimensional and establish real, meaningful relationships between them for his future work to be a fulfilling and entertaining. Character always trumps plot.

This novella suffers from writer inexperience. It lacks depth and feeling. When the George tries for it he fails. For example, this is the passage as Horse and his deputy ride out into the desert after an armed murderer:

And like something created unintentionally, but created nonetheless, they beckoned Horse and Andy, as if there were anything anywhere out there that held the promise of something of use to the two men on horseback moving ahead of the sun.

Anything anywhere out there something?

There’s nothing wrong with this story that ten more years of writing experience won’t fix.

I received this book free from Story Cartel in exchange for a honest and impartial review.

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I’m not a very friendly person.

If we attended the same party you’d see standing alone at the edge of an animated group, not contributing. If you thought I looked like I wished I could be someplace else, you’d probably be right.

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So please comment and criticize if you wish.

Just don’t expect it to be the beginning of an online relationship.


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