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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
When Jim Taggart, sheriff of Palisade, sees Daniel Lind standing over the bloodied body of his wife, Meg, on the floor of her home, with no witnesses to prove otherwise, all the evidence points to Daniel and/or his brother, Clay. The brothers are known for their drunkenness and trouble-making, though neither has ever killed a person. Clay is cleared by a neighbor; Daniel insists he’s guilty and is prepared to pay, by death, if the courts so decide. He is sentenced to 10 years in prison. But there is one other victim of this crime: Daniel’s 7-year-old daughter, Allie, who is now homeless with one parent dead, another imprisoned, and grandparents who refuse to take Allie into their lives. Taggart takes it upon himself to find Allie a home when he can’t stomach the thought of her living in an orphanage. He succeeds in finding her a safe place to grow up for the next 10 years, during which her imprisoned father dreams of finding Allie and begging her forgiveness, and Allie, in turn, grows into an angry woman bent on avenging her mom’s murder by killing Daniel once he’s released.
A novel based on the Old West is far from what I would normally choose to read. I associate books like that with the old TV Westerns, complete with gunslingers, sheriffs' deputies, posses in pursuit and hangings. But something about the description of Let Go the Reins by John D. Hughes spiked my interest so I dove in...and am I glad I did: this is one beautiful story so beautifully told it’s hard to believe this is the author’s first novel. As readers follow the next ten years in Allie's and Daniel’s lives, along with those of Taggart, his estranged sister, Becky, Clay and a sinister, scar-faced killer named Keen, the demons of each character’s past surface. Evil is as evil does, but is the real evil the obvious one? John D. Hughes has readers turning the pages fast as 10 years go by, keeping us in suspense right up until the tension-filled climax close to the end of the novel. But as much as this story is plot-driven, the characters and the emotions they evoke in readers is the real take-away from Let Go the Reins. In the end, for those who aren’t into western fiction, it matters little that this book was set in the Old West. I, for one, am glad that I let go the reins on my thinking about western novels. If I hadn’t, I would have missed out on one of my best reads of 2019. If this is what John. D. Hughes can do with his first novel, I can’t wait to see what he does next. An enriching and fulfilling read.