Prolific American author Matthew P. Mayo, who often focuses on the American West and New England, has written more than two-dozen books in the past ten years.
His ‘grittiest moments’ non-fiction books include the perennial bestseller Cowboys, Mountain Men, and Grizzly Bears, and his many Westerns include the 2013 Spur Award-winning novel Tucker’s Reckoning.
A frequent contributor to anthologies of fiction, Mayo’s stories and essays are especially worth seeking out. His recent work can be found in The Trading Post & Other Frontier Stories (Five Star) and Invigorating Passages (Lowestoft Chronicle), both published in 2018.
Mayo is at the height of his career and writing his best work to date. Earlier this year, he won the Spur Award, the Peacemaker Award, and the Wrangler Award for his historical novel Stranded, and his Roamer Western, Timberline, and Blood and Ashes, book two in The Outfit series, received glowing reviews in Booklist, the Lancashire Post and other periodicals.
His newest novel, The Outfit: Outlawed!, is the third instalment in his lively, all-action adventure series set in the Old West, featuring an eclectic band of benevolent gunslingers led by former war hero-turned-spy Rafe Barr.
Rafe, unjustly incarcerated in the hellish Yuma Territorial Prison for the alleged murder of his wife and child, was pardoned by warden Timmons in exchange for his services rescuing Sue Pendleton, the daughter of the California Governor, from a brothel in Deadwood.
Alas, the greedy, power-hungry Timmons, head of the Brotherhood of the Phoenix, ‘the mightiest group of die-hard Confederates the world has yet seen,’ continues to be a thorn in Rafe’s side, proclaiming to authorities that he is an escaped convict and hiring mercenaries to do away with him now he no longer needs him.
In this new adventure, Rafe and gang members Cookie McGee and Doc ‘Deathbed’ Jones journey to California, disguised as a mourning widow, a corpse and a travelling healer to avoid capture, to seek the Governor’s help in clearing Rafe’s name.
Meanwhile, Timmons, while fleeing a botched public lynching of President U.S. Grant, runs into the vicious killer-for-hire Turk Mincher and recruits him to find and capture Sue Pendleton as part of his ploy to blackmail her father. Mincher, one of the highlights of the previous novel, is a psychopath who likes to slay his victims with a long straight razor, invariably going for the jugular, then decapitating them and collecting a sizeable reward from marshals for the bagged heads.
It isn’t long before Mincher’s horse is loaded with a couple more heads and the fast, calculating killer has his quarry in his sights.
Interestingly, Sue, who has realised her dream of becoming an operative for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, has been assigned, by Allen Pinkerton himself, the task of ‘infiltrating’ The Outfit and ‘bringing them to justice.’
After a brief stop at The Outfit’s ranch, she learns from Black Jack and Arlene where Rafe and his crew are headed and attempts to catch up with them.
Unfortunately, along the way, she is kidnapped by Mincher who plans to add the heads of Rafe and Cookie to his burlap bags, double-cross Timmons, blackmail the Governor himself, and then do away with the warden.
Bullets zing, blades clang, and heads roll as tarnished heroes and desperadoes converge on the Governor’s mansion and Yuma Territorial Prison, setting up an explosive, thrilling showdown.
Fun and fiercely entertaining, Mayo keeps the story moving along at a good clip, and the scene-stealing presence of the depraved head-chopper assassin Mincher helps ensure that this compelling third adventure is the best of the series thus far.
Let’s hope that Rafe, ‘Sleuthing’ Sue, Cookie ‘Dynamite’ McGee and the rest of the rapidly expanding gang ride again soon.
(Five Star, hardcover, £19.95)