REVIEWED BY TIM DEFOREST
Blade Merrick, a sometimes scout for the army, is tasked with bringing a wagon-full of medicine to a epidemic-ridden mission. This means a trip across a bleak desert controlled by the Apaches. Merrick has past experience with the Apaches—the exact nature of which isn't revealed to us until later in the novel—that makes sending him alone a worthwhile idea.
He doesn't stay alone, though. Along the way, he picks up a badly-wounded man and his wife, along with three outlaws whom he immediately realizes he can not trust. Soon, the party is at a waterhole, threatened by Apache and unable to trust one another.
It's a great set-up, generating a lot of tension. Whittington's characterizations are strong as well. Each person in the story, even the mostly despicable bad guys, have real dimension to their personalities. Merrick's past, including his history with the Apaches, is effectively foreshadowed so that when that past plays a key role in the novel's resolution, events play out in an unexpected and satisfying manner.
Much of the novel is Merrick and the outlaws playing cat-and-mouse with one another, with the situation eventually exploding into violence. When the Apaches show up, the novel comes to a brutal and tension-filled climax. At least we think its the climax, because when that situation is resolved, events spill into a SECOND brutal and tension-filled climax.
This may be my favorite Whittington Western.