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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Death in the Tallgrass: A Young Man’s Journey Through the Western Frontier by Donald Willerton is a Western adventure with a difference. It is 1904, the West has opened up considerably since its Wild West days but it is still a tough, unforgiving, and dangerous place. Harry Bonner is a young man going places. From a wealthy St. Louis family, Harry is studying to be a lawyer to build a successful career. When he discovers some documents in his elderly grandfather’s safe, he is shocked to discover that the family history told to him by his grandfather and mother may be a distortion, if not an outright lie. Confronting his mother, he learns that his Uncle Sam, who was kidnapped by Native Americans when just ten years old and was believed killed may be alive and that the properties in New Mexico that his mother and his uncle should have rightfully inherited were misappropriated by his devious grandfather. Determined to find the truth, Harry decides to use the summer break from college to travel to New Mexico and try to unravel his family’s history. So begin the adventures of a rich, pampered, pompous, and somewhat entitled greenhorn in the wide frontiers of Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado.
Death in the Tallgrass was an absolute joy to read. Donald Willerton has created characters that are perfectly described for their roles in the narrative and has developed them way beyond their original typecasting, giving them great depth and a surprising ability to adapt. I loved the early portrayal of this bumbling, well-meaning, but incredibly pompous giant of a man who had never needed to dally with anyone deemed below his station. His relationship with Alice and how these two characters evolved together was wonderful writing. The author’s style is descriptive and laid-back as he places you inside Harry’s mind and heart, venturing out into this unknown wilderness with dreams of his Western novel heroes like Kit Carson and Wyatt Earp. His shock at discovering that the West was nothing like that described in the novels of his childhood spurred Harry on from being a gangling youth to the man he became on this journey. The use of some Native American mysticism with the dream sequences was an inspired choice and immersed the reader into the life of Harry’s kidnapped uncle, I read this book in one sitting and it was not only a wonderful adventure story but the circumstances Harry had to face on his journey raised some fascinating questions about morality, right and wrong, as well as family, and ultimately love. This was a wonderful read and one I can highly recommend.