Death In The Tallgrass

A Young Man's Journey Through The Western Frontier

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
346 Pages
Reviewed on 09/30/2023
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Author Biography

An award-winning author of fourteen books, Don Willerton has set most of his novels against the mountains, rivers, and canyons of the American West. Raised in the Panhandle of Texas, he picnicked where Kit Carson led his troops to the first battle of Adobe Walls in 1864, hunted arrowheads along the Canadian River, walked in swales made by pioneer wagons more than a hundred and fifty years ago, and adventured in the canyons of the Palo Duro. He has remained fascinated with the history of the Southwest and the people who made it.

After a science degree in Texas, graduate work in Wyoming, and another degree in New Mexico, Willerton established his home in Los Alamos, working over the years as a physicist, computer programmer, manager, and information security leader. Along the way, he built a house, restored cars, backpacked in the mountains, rafted rivers, and helped raise three sons. Writing since the 1990s, he has produced ten books of the Mogi Franklin Mystery Series, which combines Southwest landscapes, history, and lore to create mysteries involving a middle-grade sleuth and his older sister; a supernatural suspense novel centered around an abandoned house that has a personality; a thriller combining the two problems of homelessness and ocean pollution; and a WWII novel of a young man’s war experiences set against the breakdown of his family life, based on the war itinerary of Willerton’s father.

    Book Review

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.

K.C. Finn

Death In The Tallgrass: A Young Man's Journey Through The Western Frontier is a work of fiction in the interpersonal drama, coming-of-age, and Western historical fiction subgenres. It is best suited to the general adult reading audience and was penned by author Donald Willerton. This captivating historical novel transports readers to the American frontier in 1904. The story centers on Harry Bonner's quest to find his long-lost uncle, who was kidnapped by Comanche warriors decades earlier. This journey takes Harry through the rugged landscapes of New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma, exposing him to cultures and challenges vastly different from his privileged upbringing.

Author Donald Willerton's descriptive prose brings the prairies, canyons, and people of the American frontier to life, making it easy to immerse oneself in the setting. What struck me most about this book is the author’s ability to so keenly and vividly capture the essence of the time and place. It’s clear that the author has a great wealth of research and imagination, but also empathy for exactly what it would be like to live in these times. The characters are well-drawn, and their relationships and personal growth are beautifully depicted. As Harry navigates the complexities of love, loss, and violence, the narrative delves into deep emotional and moral territory. The book explores themes of identity, cultural clashes, and the transformative power of personal experiences alongside the adventure, and Harry's evolution from a sheltered young man into someone who confronts the harsh realities of life on the frontier is a compelling journey. Overall, Death In The Tallgrass is a richly textured historical novel that combines adventure, romance, and introspection, making it a thoroughly engaging read for those who enjoy immersive historical fiction.

Trudi LoPreto

In Death In The Tallgrass by Donald Willerton, Harry Bonner is a rich, spoiled young man used to an easy, no-worry life. When his mother asks him to travel west and find out about her brother, Harry immediately begins planning the trip. He expects it to be an easy journey but quickly learns it is anything but that. His uncle was taken by the Comanche as a small child and never heard from again. Harry begins the search in his mother’s hometown, trying to gain information from anyone who could shed some light on what happened so many years ago. He learns many things and soon believes he must search further, and hires Alice, a rough and tough woman, to help him. Alice is dirty, uneducated, and Harry’s total opposite in every way. Somehow as they travel in her wagon across New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma, they form a strong bond and face much danger. Harry and Alice both grow up and soon find themselves falling in love.

Death In The Tallgrass: A Young Man’s Journey Through The Western Frontier takes place in the western frontier and pulled me right into 1904. I felt the story come to life and it was hard to stop reading this tale with its many twists and turns, dangers, and happy times. Donald Willerton created very believable characters, a strong plot, and a vivid picture of life in the wild frontier. I believe this would be the perfect script for a TV movie and can even picture who I would like to see cast in it. This book is a real winner and if you are a Western genre fan, it should be put at the top of your reading list. You won't be disappointed!

Jamie Michele

Death in the Tallgrass by Donald Willerton revolves around a young man named Harry who is certain that an inheritance has been stolen from him and his mother. He is determined to find out what happened to Sam, his maternal uncle, who disappeared decades before. Both these issues make up the plot, but it is the journey that turns Harry's life into something he never anticipated when he sets out. Harry meets a woman named Teats, whose real name is Alice, and together they venture forward into the vast American frontier. As they progress, Sam's experiences weave in and out of Harry's subconscious, and his backstory, as well as Alice's, unfold. Both know the dangers of what might be on the trail before them, but neither could predict the horrors that ultimately come to pass.

Death in the Tallgrass by Donald Willerton went in a lot of directions that I didn't see coming at all. The greatest of these is the esoteric connection Harry has to Sam, who was captured as a result of greed and the infringement of white settlers, even if it was not directly linked in the traditional sense. Willerton puts Sam's story second only to Harry's, who begins to feel more for Alice than a mere travel companion. I liked Alice's abrasiveness and that Willerton makes her a woman who knows her own mind, and one that Harry needs far more than she needs him. Her strength is a bright light. The story takes a dark turn here, and, as far as I was concerned, the plot around Sam is a welcome reprieve, at least while it lasts. The ending is bittersweet but still satisfying, and I think this book will be a hit for those who enjoy speculative fiction and Westerns with an edge.

Asher Syed

Death in the Tallgrass by Donald Willerton follows Harry, a determined law student, as he embarks on a quest for justice that takes him on a tumultuous journey through the rugged landscapes of New Mexico and Texas. When evidence surfaces suggesting that his uncle, Nev, swindled their family's inheritance, Harry's mother, Lucille, sends him to uncover the truth. Along the way, Harry encounters strange occurrences, delves into his family's dark past, and unearths secrets about his long-lost and presumed-dead uncle, Sam. As he perseveres, he forms an unlikely alliance with Alice Tillson, a resilient woman scarred by her own past. Together, they face adversity, betrayal, and danger, all while Harry's connection to Sam deepens through haunting visions, and his hope turns to revenge for atrocities a lesser man could not endure.

Death in the Tallgrass: A Young Man's Journey Through The Western Frontier packages historical, metaphysical, and literary fiction into a single book, and Donald Willerton takes a no-holds-barred approach to pain, justice, and redemption through Harry. I went into the book with the assumption that we would simply be following a wayward cowboy trying to unravel the mysteries of his family, and maybe a bit of love and a couple of encounters with Native American tribes along the way. This does happen, but it is wrapped up in extreme heartache, and the ferocity of the landscape makes its assault on Harry and Alice all the more horrific. From a literary standpoint, the writing is as raw as the story itself, and readers who appreciate more polished prose might not stay the course. That said, Willerton does inject a great deal of introspection and heart, and even a few fist-pump moments where Harry gets his hands dirty, and not just with the grit of the land. Recommended.

Manuel Vigil

Death in the Tallgrass by Donald Willerton starts off with a young man finding evidence that an inheritance that belongs to him and his mother has been stolen by a scheming relative. Finding himself with time on his hands during summer break from law school, he decides that he will correct this injustice and at the same time enjoy the adventures of the west as he recollects from reading western books in his younger days. All of this starts with the kidnapping of his mother’s brother Sam by the Comanches and presumed dead. Little does he know what turn of events this decision will have on the rest of his life.

This book took me by surprise due to my expectations of a traditional western story. Like Harry I have read many accounts (a few… years ago) of western adventure. This book certainly had the vivid details of western landscaping but added mystery, Indian lore, and the examining of highly moral issues to the story, in addition to an unusual romance between Harry and Alice.

I thought the intermingling of western, violence mystery, romance, and adventure was very well done. Using dreams for an in-body description of Harry viewing the world and history from his uncle’s perspective was very creative and original, in my mind. Harry’s idea of a western adventure went far beyond anything he (and I) expected. The vivid description of the landscape allowed me to immerse myself into the land itself and follow Harry as a very interested bystander. The unexpected romance between Harry and Alice was an unexpected development but instrumental in the story line that inspired moral issues to resolve.

The book was very entertaining because of the whole mix of ideas. It was wonderful, entertaining and a joy to read. Taking Harry from being a easy going loafer to a man of deeds, tracking Sam’s life from kidnapping to the end (especially through the introduction of the dream states, experiencing love in an unexpected situation, and dealing with issues of right and wrong made it fascinating reading. Everything was nicely wrapped up in the end.

In summary, Harry’s simple quest to correct an injustice and have a summer adventure turns into quite a life changing experience. This was a wonderful reading experience and I highly recommend this book.

(Note: This is my first written review of a book in a long time.)