Austin writer Elizabeth Crook’s new western, The Madstone (Little, Brown), takes place in 1868, five years after the events of her much-loved previous novel, The Which Way Tree. Benjamin Shreve, the orphaned protagonist of the earlier book, is now nineteen years old and working as a carpenter. By various machinations he finds himself, at first grudgingly, pulled into a domestic drama that carries him from the Hill Country to the Gulf Coast, with no shortage of violence along the way.
Although The Madstone is as thrilling as its predecessor, the Benjamin we meet here is no longer a callow, somewhat unformed teenager. Shaped by the events of The Which Way Tree, he assumes the sort of obligation to others that his allies Preacher Dob and Mr. Pacheco selflessly took on when he was in dire need.
At the end of The Which Way Tree, Crook offered us a glimpse of Benjamin in old age, a successful rancher presiding over vast acreage. The Madstone takes us a bit further down his path to that status, and no doubt there will be many takers for a third and even fourth novel that detail the rest of his journey.
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