Barbed Wire Cowboy is at once a gritty tale of living and working on a cattle ranch and a love story between two men who suck at communicating honestly and openly.
After coming out to his rancher father, Marc Poulson found himself kicked out, stripped of his family and alone, but in the years since found a place as foreman of the Double R Ranch. If it weren't for his feud with his ex-friend Casey, foreman at the neighboring Del Rio Ranch, life would be nearly perfect.
Marc doesn't understand why Casey would rather punch him than continue to be his friend - the reason for this change in status is not immediately clear to the reader, as neither Marc nor Casey provide any insight - but their continued fighting has now landed both of them in a jail cell.
Bailed out by their respective bosses, Marc and Casey are given an ultimatum - shape up or ship out. And learn to work together again.
Marc is happy to call a truce between them, but Casey isn't on board. When Marc saves Casey's ass from a rampant bull, the event proves to be somewhat of a turning point.
Except Casey continues to blow hot and cold, and refuses to tell Marc what demons are still haunting him. He makes mistake after mistake, driven by the terror of his past, until Marc has enough, and when provided with an unforeseen option, Marc is done with Casey's bullshit and leaves.
The author really brought the grittiness, long hours and hard work of the cattle ranches across, and the huge amount of physical labor that's involved. She also did a fine job with the characters - they are complex and complicated, and rough around the edges, like you'd expect cowboys to be - but also gave them individual pasts that continue to shape their actions and derail what might be. Neither knows how to really talk about their feelings, and Casey hiding a huge secret from his past that he refuses to address and would rather forget has a lot to do with his behavior - their actions and reactions made sense to me.
This is a rollercoaster ride as Marc and Casey go from enemies to lovers to heartbreak, full of anger and fear and hiding, with an overriding sense that love may not always be enough to keep a couple together unless they're willing to confront their differences and their pasts head-on to have a future.
Whether Casey and Marc overcome the odds - well, find out by reading this for yourself.
** I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. **
Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin UK for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.
This story, told in two different time frames by Eddie Adams (known as Eddie Munster as a child, because all the friends had nicknames and somehow the Munsters and the Adams became conflated into one…), has all the elements fans of mysteries and thrillers love. Strange characters, plenty of secrets, red herrings and false clues, lies, many suspects, a slightly odd setting, bizarre murders, strange relationships… A murder involving bizarre circumstances (a chopped-up body with a missing head, strange chalk drawings…) took place in a small and picturesque UK city (it sounds small enough to be a town, but as it has a cathedral, it is a city) in 1986 (although there were other strange things that happened at the time too, coincidental or not), and became known as the Chalk-Man murder. Thirty years later someone starts asking questions and stirring things up. Eddie narrates, in the first-person, the events, including his memories of what happened when he was a teenager and also telling us what is happening now. Those of you who read my blog know I have a thing for unreliable narrators, and, well, Eddie is a pretty good one. He is an English high school teacher and seems fairly reliable and factual in his account, and he does a great job of making us feel the emotions and showing us (rather than telling us) the events; although slowly he starts revealing things about himself that make him less standard and boring, and slightly more intriguing. Eddie does not have all the information (it seems that the friends kept plenty of things from each other as children), and sometimes he is unreliable because of the effect of alcohol, and possibly his mental state (his father suffered early dementia and he is concerned that he might be going down the same path). But there are other things at play, although we don’t fully get to know them until the very end.
The story reminded me of Stephen King’s It, most of all because of the two time-frames and of the story of the children’s friendship, although the horror element is not quite as strong (but there are possible ghosts and other mysterious things at play), and the friends and their friendship is more suspect and less open. In some ways, the depiction of the friend’s relationship, and how it changes over time, is more realistic. Of course, here the story is told from Eddie’s point of view, and we share in his likes and dislikes, that are strongly coloured by the events and his personal opinions. The main characters are realistically portrayed (both from a child’s perspective and later from an adult one), complex, and none of them are totally good, or 100% likeable, but they are sympathetic and not intentionally bad or mean (apart from a couple of secondary characters but then… there is a murderer at work). Morality is ambiguous at best, and people do questionable things for reasons that seem fully justified to them at the time, or act without thinking of the consequences with tragic results. I am not sure I felt personally engaged with any of the characters (perhaps because of Eddie’s own doubts), but I liked the dubious nature of the narration, and the fact that there were so many unknowns, so many gaps, and that we follow the process of discovery up-close, although there are things the main character knows that are only revealed very late in the game (although some he seems to have buried and tried hard to forget). The parents, and secondary characters, even when only briefly mentioned, serve the purpose well, add a layer of complexity to the story and are consistent throughout the narration.
The mystery had me engaged, and the pieces fit all together well, even when some of them are not truly part of the puzzle. I can’t say I guessed what had happened, although I was suspicious of everyone and, let’s say I had good reason to be. I liked the ending, not only the resolution of the mystery but what happens to Eddie. If you read it, you’ll know what I mean.
The writing is fluid, it gives the narrator a credible voice, it gets the reader under the character’s skin, and it creates a great sense of place and an eerie atmosphere that will keep readers on alert. The story deals with serious subjects, including child abuse, bullying (and sexual abuse), dementia, and although it is not the most graphically violent story I have read, it does contain vivid descriptions of bodies and crime scenes, and it definitely not a cozy mystery and not for the squeamish reader.
A great new writer, with a very strong voice and great ability to write psychological thrillers, and one I hope to read many more novels by.
Sweet story with very likable guys. The MMM also developed quite nicely but something just felt off off. This really had very little grit or angst at all and the timing of their day and actions in some scenes seemed out of whack. Not sure when these guys slept, honestly. And while the sex was good I occasionally had this look as I wondered how there was room left to do the described sexual act given the position of the other two.
Worth the read if you're looking for a no-angst MMM with 3 sweet guys.
A nice collection of stories about friendship.
Toad is notorious for being kind of a jerk, but Frog really exemplifies what it means to be a good friend. These stories perfectly capture true friendship, not the over the top, lovey dovey stuff that is so common in today's literature and movies for children. They show how true friends accept each other's faults and love each other anyway. Because even a jerk like Toad has his moments.
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