Bitter Creek’s Redemption by T.A. Chase
A good effort, but …
Bitter Creek is a town on the brink of war. Lines are being drawn and sides taken as two powerful men gather armies of gunfighters. The townspeople are helpless and the law worthless. One man has already died in the opening salvo of this land war and an air of fearful anticipation hangs over the town. Eagle, the half-breed who works at the livery stable, manages to survive by not taking sides, until one day a stranger rides into town. Eagle’s life changes, and he realizes that he can no longer hide with his horses if he wishes to be the man he claims to be…
Review by Gerry Burnie
It is my philosophy that if a writer takes the time to write a novel (i.e. 50-pages or more), that effort deserves a star or two for the ‘sweat’ factor. While not a passing grade it does recognize the work and dedication involved. Beyond that it’s all merit that counts.
Ordinarily I read approximately three or four novels a week, and out of that number there may be one or two that don’t merit more than a minimum passing-star rating (2½). Contrary to popular opinion this is not an arbitrary decision. There is a scoring process involved that makes it reasonably objective. Therefore, I thought that I would take this opportunity to explain how this is done.
Journalism: This category looks at the narrative, and whether it flows in a logical, sequential fashion. If the style is ‘poetic’ (elaborately descriptive), does the description fit the situation comfortably, or does it get in the way? It also looks at the dialogue, and whether it fits the character doing the speaking.
Syntax: looks at the sentence structure: Does the structure flow comfortably, or are there stumbling blocks—the “up with I will not put” syndrome? This category also looks at paragraph construction, and whether it sticks to the topic under consideration.
These combined categories equal 10-points, or one star.
Regarding syntax, the sentence structure in “Bitter Creek’s Redemption” is fairly good for the most part. However, while the prose is sequential enough the reader is frequently assailed with people and events coming out of the blue, pell mell, without any lead-up or preparation. This is so from the opening paragraph where we are introduced to Eagle, the main character, “[H]e’d been working in the livery stable,” (emphasis mine). What livery stable? Then, in the very next breath we are confronted by Ralph Ramsey—equally unknown—but who has been shot for some unexplained reason, somewhere and by a person or persons unknown. Rather than elaborate on any of this, however, the writer goes on to focus on a horse.
“Murmuring low in the tone he’d learned horses loved, he approached the gelding. The chestnut laid his ears back, but made no effort to run or evade Eagle’s hand. He snatched up the reins and led the trembling horse into the barn. Everyone knew the chestnut was Ralph’s pride and joy. The man babied it worse than a mother hen with a chick. Something bad must have happened to cause Ralph to run the gelding almost to death.”
Therefore, at this point we know more about a horse—that as far as I can see is quite inconsequential to the story—than we do about the main character and one of the important side characters. The seven-page chapter then goes on to introduce a succession of characters, either directly or indirectly; “Barking Dog,” who is Eagle’s half-brother and apparently hangs out in cemeteries late at night, and Irv Johnson, the rather boorish owner of the livery stable and Eagle’s boss. It also makes reference to Eagle’s Indian mother and his half-white status. Nevertheless, there is not a clue regarding how these people fit into the story or, indeed, why.
This trend is continued in Chapter 2 when Eagle’s counterpart is introduced in the person of Travis Ramsey; but rather than developing his character the writer chooses to focus on yet another horse: “Be careful, Travis says. “He [the horse] doesn’t like people and he’ll take a chunk out of you if you’re not paying attention to him.” Therefore, the reader is left scrambling to make sense of it all.
Dialogue is a fairly open topic, and need not be particularly grammatical if the speaker isn’t. It is primarily an extension of the character’s personality. However it should ring true as something the character might say, and should not attempt to make an ‘ordinary Joe’ sound like an Oxford Don, i.e., “I will do that brother, and I will help you gather them tonight.” (Emphasis mine). Caricaturizing the dialogue is not a good idea, either, because the reader will surely pick up on it. For example, “After you’ve delivered those horses, get your dirty Injun arse back here and clean out those stalls.” [Emphasis mine]. It does seem a bit over the top even for a churlish oaf like Irv Johnson.
Marks awarded for these two categories: 5/10, or .5 of a star.
Plot: This category is almost self-explanatory. There is no rule that says a plot has to be original so long as the writer has given it a fresh approach. However, it would take quite a lot of freshness to rejuvenate a plot based on a town caught in the middle of a range war, and with a subplot about some unknown but fortuitous, money-making event in the offing. Also an honest but unlikely hero cast in the role of uncovering this dastardly scheme and saving an otherwise undeserving populace. That one has been around since Hopalong Cassidy and Tom Mix.
Story development: Regretfully there is nothing in the way the story develops to add freshness to the plot. On the one hand the writer seems to be constantly in a hurry to get the story told, and not sure where the story is going on the other. For example, one moment Eagle and Travis are engaged in a nose-to-nose argument, and the next,
“All thought and caution fled from Travis’s brain as Eagle’s hard chest brushed over his and, even through the layers of clothes, he felt Eagle’s solid muscles. Reaching up, he buried his hands in Eagle’s hair and crushed their lips together.”
As a result of this impetuousness the story seems contrived as every crisis is met with the introduction of yet another character, or by Eagle’s Indian brothers; who seem to have an uncanny ability to be in the vicinity as needed.
Score for this part: 5/10.
The ‘Wow!’ factor: This category recognizes outstanding or excellent achievement; those stories that maintain a very high standard of writing throughout, and include unique and/or original content. (10/10 . or one star)
No score recorded for this part.
My observation as a reader is that there are some really engaging passages here, where the writer has taken the time to round out the scenario. Eagle is certainly interesting as a half-breed, and with some deserving research that aspect of his personality could be developed into a worthwhile subplot. In addition, the other characters could have been much more colourful with some ‘fleshing out.’ For example, what does Irv look like? Does he have any nervous habits that would betray his basic insecurity? For that matter, what does the town of Bitter Creek look like? Therefore, for what it is worth those are the questions I found myself asking, and I suspect others were asking as well.
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