Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
Marty Fairgrave is a top Pickup* man in the rodeo. It’s his business to make sure that the bull and bronc riders get back to the gates safely. The riders count on him and he rarely makes a mistake. Then Tripp Colby catches a ride on a bull named Shockwave and the events that follow prove to be a life changer for both men. Marty has been in love with Tripp Colby for several years now and knows that Tripp loves him back. But Tripp is also deep in the closet and not even an injured Marty can make him come out.
For Marty the romance is over but Tripp is determined to get him back. But what will a closeted cowboy do when no one is there to pick him up, not even the one he loves?
From May to August, the PBR is on break, so what a great time to get caught up on all the rodeo fiction that has been published recently. If you are a fan of hot cowboys and rodeo action as I am, then you will appreciate this story from L.C. Chase. In Pickup Men, the author’s focus is on the unheralded, but important profession of the pickup man. Here is the definition of a pickup man from Jerry Nelson’s Frontier Rodeo website:
Rodeo Pick Up Men* are vital to the safety of the cowboy. A Pick Up Man’s job is to rescue the cowboy after his eight second ride from a bucking bronc. The cowboy’s job is to first ride the bucking bronc for the eight second ride with one hand, then grab on with two hands and wait until the Pick Up Man rides in along side the bronc and picks him up and they ride off to safety. The cowboy then is easily set down to the ground without injury. The Pick Up Man’s job is also to remove all equipment from the bronc and to remove the bronc from the rodeo arena after the competition. Pick Up Men also play a role in the calf roping and steer wrestling events, by roping calves and steers after competion and gentling coaxing them out of the arena. Pick Up Men are also a vital part of keeping the show fast paced. Pick Up Men have a great rapport with the livestock and have years of training in horsemanship.
They are the unsung heroes who time and again save both the rider and the roughstock. So it was wonderful to see a book with a Pick Up Man not only as the title character but as the title itself. Way to give these men their due, L.C. Chase!
In Marty Fairgrave, L.C. Chase gives us a wonderful character who exemplifies the best qualities of a Pickup Man in more ways than just his career. Marty is one of the top men in his profession and in his personal life, he is also the pickup man for Tripp Colby, a closeted mess of a champion bull rider. The two men have been having a romance that has been kept hidden from those around them because Tripp fears that he will lose his sponsors once the truth is known that he is gay. As the stress of this situation builds, Marty risks everything to save Tripp, and the result is disastrous for both of them. For me, this is actually the best part of this book. It is raw, the descriptions are vivid, and the action so swift that you feel as though you are down in the arena with the action taking place. This is how it all starts:
Two thousand pounds of pissed-off beef, aptly named Shockwave, tossed around the man on its back like a ragdoll. But Tripp wouldn’t be dislodged. He clung to the spinning beast with an ease and confidence that belied the skill and athleticism—not to mention pure guts— required to compete at the professional level.
Sitting astride his best pickup horse, Fairgrave Flyer, near the chutes of the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo arena, Marty Fairgrave couldn’t suppress the smile that fought for freedom across his face.
It was a beautiful sight watching a champion at work.
But what happens next takes your breathe away, and its impact upon the reader is immediate and heartpounding. Really, some of the best descriptions happen here. Clearly, L.C. Chase is familiar with the rodeo and has great affection for those who make it their life’s work. And while the fan may only see the 8 second ride, a story like Pickup Men lets the reader go behind the scenes of the rodeo, where a hundred jobs and actions must take place to pull off such an event. This includes what happens when the cowboys are injured and the physical ailments that are part of the job. There is the constant traveling, the stress of being tired for long periods at a time and of course, the injuries. L. C. Chase gets this aspect right as well.
But the problem here is the character of Tripp Colby. He is not terribly likable at the beginning. As I said earlier, he is a closeted mess and the reader comes down hard on the side of Marty when the two are apart. Later on as Tripp’s story is revealed, he does earn our compassion, especially during a trip to San Francisco. But for the majority of the book the character that Chase has created in Tripp serves more to disconnect the reader from his story rather than engage them. And, as the book winds down, it is hard to bring the reader back into his corner.
There is a considerable amount of miscommunication between the men, including one incident that eludes any type of plausibility for me. And the narrative becomes a little uneven towards the middle of the story. The other thing is that Tripp is 33 years old, and that is old in a profession where most bull riders are between the ages of 20 to 25. It is a young man’s sport. And while most bull riders hate to give up riding, most accept that they have a certain time frame to work with. All of which makes Tripp’s attitude a little more whiney than perhaps the author wanted it to come across.
But those issues aside, I did enjoy this story. It moved along at a nice clip most of the time and had a lovely cast of secondary characters that I wished I had seen more of. From Marty’s mother, a champion rider in her day, to his small circle of friends, they are a well rounded and charismatic group. I enjoyed my time with them immensely. So for all those fan of the rodeo as well as fans of L.C. Chase, I can recommend Pickup Men as a fun way to spend the time while waiting for the rodeo to return to cable. Pick it up now!
* I have seen Pickup Men written several different ways by several different rodeo organizations. From Pick Up Men to Pickup Men to Pick up men, all seem to be correct.
Cover art and design by L.C. Chase. Just an outstanding cover, perfect in every way.