Review: Masked Riders by Lucius Parhelion

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Masked RidersWhen ex union cavalryman and now California rancher Jesse Putnam is summoned by his wealthy aunt and boss to come to San Francisco for a meeting.  he uses the night before to visit a bawdy hotel where he  could satiate his illegal desires for men.  But  nothing prepared Jesse to seeing his sexual companion of the previous night standing in his aunt’s office, apparently an employee of hers as well.

Wardley Bridger, now his colleague, is there to help Jesse investigate the peculiar goings on at the ranch in California  where the profits are less than they should be and rumors are rife over bad management as well as potential illegalities.  Previous investigators have come up empty handed so the men are going in undercover as ranch hands to see if they can ferret out the truth.

On s their journey south on a trail that  stretches out from the dusty Pueblo of Angles into the brush-covered hills of Ranchero Los Robles, Jesse and Wardley find they have much in common, from a love of fine literature to beautiful horses and finally a illegal sexuality that they don’t have to hide from each other.  When a ghost rider appears at the ranch, threatening their investigation, Wardley and Jesse find that the truth jeopardizes evverything, including their burgeoning love affair.

Lucius Parhelion is one of the first names that pop into my head when someone asks for a recommendation for m/m historical fiction about the American West.  Parhelion’s stories are told with an authentic, dry tone that seems to come up  from the very soil and arid climate of the land the characters ride over and exist on.  The author’s stories are factual, full of information and dates that locate the story in a specific time and place.  But these details always serve to enhance rather than obfuscate or weigh down the discourse.  Here is a sample:

Jesse shut the ledger hard enough to stir the smoky air. Above them, the nine years of accumulated spider webs that gave the Cobweb Palace its name, swayed gently. The proprietor felt that spiders were lucky. The patron confronted by a spider might or might not agree.

“I assume that our leaving the steamer before San Pedro would have something to do with obtaining mounts.”

“Well, there are horses a-plenty at the Playa Negra, but given what Mrs. Gifford said to me about due speed, I can’t see her being happy with our taking the time to ride all the way down from north of Santa Barbara to Los Robles.” Bridger shook his head while smiling, a rather mild reaction to Ada.”

Parhelion easily inserts the name of The Cobweb  Palace, an establishment that opened up in 1856  at the foot of Meigg’s Wharf , in a lovely blend of fact and fiction, a trademark of this author I have come to expect from all of Parhelion’s stories.

Masked Riders is composed of 11 chapters, each with an amusing and old sounding title, such as Chapter VIII   — You May Lead a Man Towards Aiming, but You Cannot Make Him Hit.  The opening paragraph is perfectly suited to title and content:

If there was one lesson Jesse had been grateful to learn during the late rebellion, it was the difficulty of actually hitting a man with a bullet. He’d never expected to feel that particular gratitude again. He’d been wrong.

There are many issues discussed within the story, plight of the Celestials as the Chinese were called as well as the freed slaves who came west after the war was over.  Parhelion gives the reader a real feel for the state of western society and the many layers it was comprised of through descriptions that paint such a vivid portrait of the people and land that I could almost feel like I was walking the streets or riding along the trails. The author’s characters are as strong as the historical setting they find themselves in.  From Jesse and Wardley to Aunt Ada, a tower of strength and intellect in a diminutive body, all are fully fleshed out and totally human.

At  90 pages, I always end up wishing for more of a drawn out resolution to issues the men find at the ranch, although the ending was perfect in its realism and tone.  If you love westerns, this is for you.  If you love beautifully done historical novels, this is for you.  If you love a realistically portrayed growing affection that turns into something more, than this is for you.  Masked Riders is a wonderful introduction to the works of Lucius Parhelion.  Don’t pass it or the author’s other works up.

Cover illustration by BS Clay.  Beautiful cover, luscious, and perfect  for the trail to the ranch and a relationship.

A Cluttered Sunday and the Week Ahead In Reviews

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Somehow I’ve done it again.  It  creeps up on me with all the discretion of a whispering wind, but its effects can feel more like a nor’easter by the time I realize it’s occurred once more.  It starts with one project, maybe overhauling one small section of a garden, then spreads to cleaning out the library, and then, like some  giant amoeba, slides gelatinously over every aspect of my life, sinking me in projects, expanded plans and , oh yes, clutter.  Clutter of the gardens, house, Kindle, and mind, making me plant my butt in my favorite chair, mouth dropped to the floor as I stare in horror at the chaos I have created.

I have ferns, hostas, primroses and toadlilys amassed by the backdoor, the library looks like  the yarn fairy and the book gnome had a brawl, throwing their wares willy nilly around the room, cook books are spread open in the kitchen to various receipes needed to cook for Mothers Day (have to try them out first you know, another thing on my list to do), and Kirby has found the mole holes, gleefully rolling about in the muck.  Dogs to wash, add to list.  My Kindle is loaded with books to read and review.  And I promised one author to beta his book immediately.  So many promises and things waiting for my attention. Then the tsunami arrives.  My father becomes seriously ill due to the effects of new medication.  Things come to a complete standstill until he is home once more.  Then the reality of Dad getting sick (this man never gets sick) hits my Mother, she gets ill, and things remain in status.

Now both parents are back at home and doing well.  But the effects are still reverberating through my life.  As I sit amongst the clutter of my life, I can only think, my parents were seriously ill and I am stunned.  At their age and mine, this should not surprise me, but it does, hitting me with an emotional wallop I was in no way prepared for.

So I need to move forward and start to clear away the chaos that life, generously helped along by moi, has created.  The plants will start to go in the ground  on Wednesday when they say it will be warmer, the books I will tackle one at a time, the library will see its books reshelved and the yarn organized starting tomorrow (ever so slowly), I will apologize to Brandon once more about his novel and get to it, and slowly, ever so slowly order will be restored.  Sigh.  Even without my parents getting ill, I can see that things were getting a little out of control.

How does that happen again?  Oh yeah, life.  I know there are people out there this never happens to.  Organized, compartmentalized gems of folks.  I just don’t know them.  I often wonder what their lives must be like, with uncluttered surfaces that gleam and spotless floors with nary a dog toy in sight.  I do know that will never happen here.  Welcome to my world, lowered expectations!

Now I had a thought at the beginning of this post……I just don’t know where I put it.  It’s somewhere under the yarn or maybe out in the garden.  It’s time to go look for it.  In the meantime while I am gathering up my scattered thoughts, here is the week ahead in reviews:

Monday, April 22:              Into This River I Drown by TJ Klune (yes really)

Tuesday, April 23:              On A Lee Shore by Elin Gregory

Wed., April 24:                   Masked Riders by Lucius Parhelion

Thursday, April 25:           Unearthing Cole by AM Arthur

Friday, April 26:                 Astral Mage by Hurri Cosmo

Saturday, April 27:             Scattered Thoughts On World Building in Fiction