Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Like a lot of people, I learn about many new-to-me authors and books from blog friends. It’s a good way to broaden my reading horizons and try something I might not otherwise read. For instance, I learned about Stark Holborn’s Nunslinger series from Col, who blogs at Col’s Criminal Library. Thanks, Col; I might not otherwise have gotten the chance to ‘meet’ Sister Thomas Josephine. Let’s turn the spotlight on this series today, and take a close look at Nunslinger: Book 1.
The story begins in 1864, as Sister Thomas Josephine is making her way from the St. Louis convent where she lives, to start over again in Sacramento, California. The wagon train she’s joined has been attacked in Wyoming, and she’s left stranded. Fortunately, she’s rescued by Lieutenant Theodore Carthy and his men, part of a group of Federal troops in the area.
After a short rest, Sister Josephine is given permission to say some prayers for the members of the wagon train who were killed. She’s just finished the rudimentary ceremony when she’s taken hostage by a grifter named Abraham Muir. Very soon, it’s clear that Muir and Carthy know each other and are far from being friends. With the nun as his ‘security,’ Muir takes off on his horse.
Muir assures Sister Josephine that he’s going to release her at Medicine Bow, where she can rest and then go on to Sacramento. Instead, she insists on being left at a trading post that’s not far away, and Muir reluctantly agrees. Trouble strikes at the trading post, though, when the two are ambushed by people who’ve been waiting for Muir. He’s badly injured, and he and Sister Josephine barely escape. They go into hiding, where she tends his wound as best she can.
At first, Sister Josephine thinks of Lt. Carthy as a hero who rescued her, and of Muir as her captor. But she soon learns that it’s not that simple, when Muir tells her his story. It seems that he is a former Union Army member who left after a tragic shooting. Muir also tells Sister Josephine that Carthy is not to be trusted, and that he’s responsible for the murders of innocent Sioux.
Muir and Sister Josephine are rescued and taken to Fort Laramie, where they again encounter Carthy. At Sister Josephine’s insistence, Muir gets medical treatment. Her own plan, once Muir is out of danger, is to once again set off on her journey to Sacramento. While she’s at Fort Laramie, though, she’s torn between what she has seen of both Carthy and Muir, and what each has told her about the other. She’s concerned, too; after all, her own safety depends on which of the two men is closer to telling the truth. She gets her answer in a shocking way.
The story takes place in the US West of 1864, and that context is clear throughout. Travel is rough, dangerous, and dirty. Medical supplies are few, and the land is rugged and unforgiving. Even in places such as Wyoming, where this is set, the US Civil War is felt, and there is a bit of talk about it. But for the most part, the focus is on the ongoing conflict between settlers and the Native Americans who’ve lived there for centuries.
The writing style is consistent with the context:
‘I rose from the blanket into the chill air and extended stiff limbs. It was not so different to my cell in St. Louis. The thought of the convent, with more than ten years’ worth of my tread on its floors, filled me again with purpose, reminded me of my duty.’
As you can see, the story is told from Sister Josephine’s point of view (first person, past tense), so we get to know her. At the beginning of the story, she’s somewhat of an innocent, although she is far from gullible. Still, she’s unaccustomed to life in the unsettled West, and certainly to the violence and rough living there. But she learns very quickly, and as the story goes on, we see her begin to evolve. She’s smart and quick-thinking, too.
As much as anything else, this is an adventure story. Readers who like to ‘go for the ride’ in their crime fiction will appreciate the ‘ups and downs.’ There are narrow escapes, some treachery, people who turn out not to be trustworthy, and more. In fact, this story, Nunslinger: Book 1, is the first in a series of books, and ends with a dramatic incident. That event turns out to be the catalyst for Book 2 (there are 12 books, all told, some of which end with cliffhangers). This particular book is more or less novella-sized (my edition clocked in at 80 pages). Readers who enjoy sampling an author’s work will appreciate that.
Nunslinger: Book 1 is an adventure story that takes place in the American ‘Old West,’ with all of its beauty and dangers. As with most adventure-type crime stories, the pace is fast, and the stakes are very high. The story features a smart and determined, if a bit unlikely, protagonist, who has to learn quickly and think wisely if she’s going to stay alive. But what’s your view? Have you read Nunslinger: Book 1? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday, 13 November/Tuesday, 14 November – Blacklands – Belinda Bauer
Monday, 20 November/Tuesday, 21 November – Dead Lemons – Finn Bell
Monday, 27 November/Tuesday, 28 November – Days Are Like Grass – Sue Younger