review by Rich Weatherly
A gritty story about life on the southern plains in 1870 San Angela
Del Norte may be Julia Robb’s best book yet! Del Norte, a saloon near San Angela, Texas and Fort Concho. The people living there in 1870 have a legacy of hard times and difficult circumstances. This story draws upon a cast of characters from diverse backgrounds. Remote outposts like San Angela make earning a living easier than crowded places farther north and east. Magdalena Chapas and partner Thomas Lamb run the Del Norte Saloon. Ray Cortez is Magdalena’s ex-husband. It wasn’t her doing. As it turns out Ray is a womanizer, and this is just one of his many character flaws. Magdalena cares for her disabled son, Benni. She looks to Dr. Wade Pitney for help in making Benni’s arm functional. Thomas wants to marry Magdelana.
Thomas and Wade had both arrived from a Union prisoner of war camp back east. Thomas became the camp adjutant after taking a bullet in his thigh. Wade was a Confederate doctor charged with stealing food from the prisoners. He denied the charge saying his brother was dying from consumption.
Captain Thomas Lamb described camp conditions. “During fights, he saw artillery behead soldiers, he saw men die holding their intestines in their bodies with their hands, saw them die with dysentery, spilling their evil-smelling waste at army hospitals, or in their own tents, or on the ground under cold skies. Nothing ever shocked him compared to Elmira”
Sing Kum arrived in San Francisco after being sold by her father. A girl’s life was cheap in Canton. Lan, a former Chinese pirate rescued Sing when she was deathly ill in the back of a box car. She grew to love Lan but did not know of his dark past. Lan is ambitious. He’s determined to become a big shot. To him, Sing is just a woman.
Julia Robb brings in other characters, warts and all, to create a compelling story. Her characters are complex; some likeable, other’s seemingly have little redeeming social value. This frontier town populated by a diverse array of personal backgrounds makes conditions ripe for conflict. Racism and bigotry brings dark consequences. Nothing is sugar coated. Expect a well written, gritty portrayal of life on the frontier that moves toward a shocking climax.
Try Del Norte. I’m sure you’ll learn a lot about life on the southern plains in 1870.
Amazon Purchase link: Del Norte
I’m a former journalist and editor-I spent 20 years in the newspaper business-and I’m now a free-lance writer/editor in Marshall, Texas. For fun, I drive across Texas, to the deserted corners, the wide spaces, heading west past Waco, watching the mesas float in the distance.
I began writing “Scalp Mountain” in 2009, when I saw images in my mind; a man kicking his horse into a gallop, racing away from a crime, two men fighting in a Texas valley, a woman hugging an Indian baby, refusing to let him go.
Buddies in the Saddle said about “Scalp Mountain,” “This is a fine novel. If you drew a line between “Lonesome Dove” and “All the Pretty Horses,” you would find “Scalp Mountain” somewhere along the way…..there were times when this one had me and refused to let go. For anyone who likes their westerns well grounded in history, this is one you don’t want to miss.”
I published “Saint of the Burning Heart” in February, 2013.
Saint is about a half-Hispanic child who is left homeless and alone in small-town Texas. A powerful rancher, Frank Kendall, and his family, adopt Nicki and give her a life of comfort and position.
But family intimacy leads to a obsessive, violent love affair between Nicki and Frank. Nicki is forced to leave town and when she returns finds the town at war with itself, with Anglos pitted against Hispanics. And two of the people she loves best are struggling against each other. Frank leads the Anglos and Nicki’s best friend, David Rodriguez, leads the Hispanics.
I published Del Norte this month, in December, 2013.
Del Norte is a novella about San Angela, Texas, which is a rough place in 1870, and Magdalena Chapas knows all about it; from the men who shoot holes in each other while drinking in her saloon, the Del Norte, to the man who loved her, married her and left her without a word.
Now Ray Cortez is back, and Magdalena doesn’t know what her ex-husband wants.
Does it have anything to do with the gravestone she leaned on the Del Norte’s back wall?
The stone says, “Americo Chapas, 1823-1868, Asesinado, Dios Lo Vengara, Murdered, God Will Avenge Him.”
Sing Kum knows about men.
She was freezing to death in a boxcar when Lan found her and nursed her back to health.
But Lan has a past and ambitions Sing only discovers when it’s too late. She already loves him.
Dr. Wade Pickney knows what men can do because the Yankees locked him up in a POW camp during the war and almost starved him to death.
Then they accused him of the unspeakable.
Thomas knows what men can do because he was adjutant at the camp which imprisoned Wade.
Thomas, Magdalena’s partner at the Del Norte, also knows Ray Cortez is going to be the death of somebody if he, Thomas, doesn’t stop him.
Thomas tells Magdalena that Ray was not a good man but she can safely trust him, she can love him.
“Shut up,” Magdalena says, fending off the drunks, slipping the cards from the faro box, raking in the money, and waiting for her world to explode around her.