The Texas Job by Reavis Z. Wortham

Professional Reader

The Texas Job by Reavis Z. Wortham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recalled an old woman down in the Valley once told me that when the world goes quiet, it’s because the ol’Devil is close by. I wasn’t scared of the Devil himself. The things he made people do was what worried me. I rested my hand on the butt of the pistol and waited.

An enjoyable action-centred tale, inspired by true events and people.

This novel is apparently a prequel of sorts, but I was up to now, unfamiliar with Spur-award winning Reavis Z Wortham‘s works and characters. Thank you to the author and Netgalley for allowing me to review this book in return for a review.

While I was at the very first a bit uncertain about if I would enjoy this book or not, as the very start seemed a bit uncertain, as soon as the hero of this book, Texas Ranger lawman Tom Bell, started to work, everything picked up.

I love the detail and sense of setting in this story, which is held in an oil boom town in East Texas of 1931.
I’ve seen the giant refineries near the Sabine Pass in Texas and worried about the health of the fishermen I saw catching fish as a humongous oil derrick was towed past. (There is evidence that fish like hanging out around oil derricks. )

“Times are changin’, that’s for sure. They building you a bigger jail?”

Sheriff Dobbs grunted and peered upward from under his hat brim. “They’re shortening the damned thing to accommodate the wells they’re drilling back behind.”

This isn’t a story about oil derricks, but about corrupt oilmen out to steal as much wealth as they can from small landowner-farmers when a new oil field is discovered under a couple of small towns in the Texas piney woods. (As the author notes at the back of this book, this is a landscape believed to be set on top of the largest and most prolific oil reservoir in the contiguous US.) Despite all the details, the essential plot is fairly straight forward. Good lawman guy comes to town, discovers there’s more murderous scumbagging going on than he expected, and sets about setting things right, alone and with the help of friends and colleagues. There are a few twists, but no real turns. A brief romance pops up, sort of annoyed me, and then went away. It struck me as a bit unnecessary. There was one event detail with a minor bad guy that I expected to evolve in a certain way but didn’t.

While the main point of view is told in first person from Tom Bell’s viewpoint, it does shift to other characters now and then.

On occasion, I got the sense that I was being told a historic detail simply because the author had researched it, rather than because it added to the story, but on balance I’d say I’d rather have a bit too much detail than too little and it certainly contributed to a sense of reality within this story – I was at one point wondering if I was reading a fictionalized account of a true criminal case – and not only because I vaguely recognized one of the supporting Ranger characters as a true person in fictional disguise. From what I read about the book afterwards, I believe the author drew together a number of “real happenings” and places, re-worked and re-set them. It’s all very atmospheric and excitingly done.
There were also a few times that I felt things were being repeated unnecessarily. I read this book over a fairly short time and didn’t need to be reminded of details already revealed a few chapters before.

Also, I continue to think telling the reader all the details about various guns and what ammunition characters are carrying is very “male” – and very much something you find in man adventure stories. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, exactly, obviously some people like it, it just doesn’t do much for me.

I really liked the nice detail about the water spilling from shot-up pipes during the final shoot-out.

In a few places I felt like the story was suffering a bit from “bad guys can’t hit the side of a barn, hero can kill two bad guys with one shot” syndrome – especially strange since presumably many of the characters would have either served in the first world war, or were hardened Al Capone’s Chicago gangsters, or both (something finally acknowledged towards the end of the book) but I managed to mostly shrug that problem off to action-western genre convention.

I also felt that I was being lectured to a bit, now and then. Sometimes characters are a bit too prescient about the future. It’s not entirely subtle in terms of it’s view of racial politics, with all of its murderous corrupt oilmen and gangsters being ethnically European men and one passage in particular probably unintentionally giving the impression that no White poor people were ever taken advantage of by the same- most of the victims are Black, American Indian, or multiracial, as are many of the heroes. I’m happy to see heroes in westerns that aren’t white, and I acknowledge some white dudes take advantage of not-white dudes and dudettes, I’d just like it to be, ideally, presented a bit more subtly and maybe with a bit more balance than it is here in this fiction. Perhaps I am only wanting this because I am white.

It would have been nice if there was more of a heroine presence. There are women who do good things here, but almost all of them are victimized, rescued by our hero, or very incidental to the plot.

I found a few typos, a few point of view mistakes, and there were a few places I wondered if the grammar was off unintentionally, or as a result of regionalisms. One more editorial pass may have served to polish the writing just a bit further.

This book does not polish over the violence – there’s a fair amount of blood splattered around and one grisly act of amputation that had me typing into my notes an “oooh nice!” in appreciation of the no nonsense villainy expressed through it.

There were a lot of fun sayings and turns of phrase. However, there wasn’t a whole lot of humour or perhaps I wasn’t quite getting the humour – I did find it was a fun book, but it didn’t make me laugh at any time. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if a line was meant to be funny or not. Sometimes I’m sure it was, for example:
“What is with you Rangers and horses? You need a car here in town.”
“‘…this takes the cake. I’ve never seen three men killed at one time in a gunfight.’ ‘Well, you’ve never been down on the Rio Grande.'”
Lines like these are kind of funny. There just wasn’t anything that landed on my funny bone hard enough to get me to laugh, I’m sorry to say.

Despite it’s flaws, I certainly would recommend this book, particularly to those looking for an action-adventure genre story in a setting different from the 19th century American west. I give this book 3.5 stars and round it up to 4 out of five.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s