Well, another one down and only another four thousand four hundred and forty-four more Stevens novels to go. Extremely prolific, unmatched by few others, except perhaps by Nora Roberts or Heather Graham, Stevens carries on in the tradition of the old-time pulpsmiths in the ability to pop out fiction in all or almost all genres at a steady pace and still keep up the quality of her story and writing.
In "Showdown In West Texas" she gives us an extremely improbable but very entertaining novel in which disgraced ex-Texas Bureau of Investigation officer, and ex-Jericho Pass native Grace Steele is given a second chance. Through the intervention of local big-wig and powerhouse Colt McKinney, Grace is given the chance to head up, while First Sheriff Dickerson is away, Jericho Pass' Sheriff's Department. Her sister Detective Lily Steele is understandably peeved at this, as she feels that after years of toiling in Jericho Pass's police department, that she deserves the job.
Meanwhile put-upon, down on his luck oil-drill parts salesman and ex-cop Cage Nichols (?!?) has his car break down near the town of San Miguel. After having to truck five miles through the hot desert to the town he tries to get his car fixed, but has to wait for parts, so while waiting he decides on a cold one down at Del Fuego's. While there he realizes that his kidneys are in desperate need of empting, and while doing what a man's gotta do, some gunmen enter the bar and shoot it, and its occupants full of holes. Realizing that he's unarmed, and that discretion is the better part of valor, Cage dives out the bathroom's window and makes a break for the hills. While up there he sees that the gunmen are in the employ of a couple of border agents.
Cage's luck being what it is, his ex-presence didn't exactly go unnoticed, and Cage decides that another hike in the desert is called for and he heads off into the sunset, or at least out-of-town. While fleeing he meets Dale Walsh who is having some problems himself. Bleeding and in pain, Dale collapses and Cage drives him to a local hospital where Dale gives up the ghost.
Meanwhile, Cage has gone through Dale's papers and found out that Dale may very well be a hitman hired to kill Grace. Stuck and out of options, Cage decides to go to Jericho Pass which was Dale's original final destination, although it turned out not to be Dale's final destination, if you know what I mean, and I think you do, and anonymously let the local law in on the fact that somebody wants to put a serious hurt on Grace, and then continue on his way.
Well, of course nothing is ever simple in a Stevens novel, so after arriving in Jericho Pass, and as Cage is heading over to the Sheriff's office to deliver Dale's papers he is accosted by one of Jericho Pass's Deputies. First Sheriff Dickerson had sent for ex-cop Dale Walsh, but being away and since nobody knows what Walsh looks like, and since Cage has Dale's papers, everybody assums that Cage is Dale. Y'know what they say about assuming things, yeah, and it will eventually work out that way. Anywho, Cage decides to go with the flow, and decides that if he takes Dale's ID then maybe he can find out who's trying to kill that hot sheriff in Jericho Pass.
From here on in though it starts to get complicated. Get yourself a flow chart. People start shooting at Grace, the tension between Grace and Lily heats up, the tension between Grace and Cage/Dale heats up, and not because they are in the Texas desert, if you know what I mean. Meanwhile Grace's ex is trying to sell his land to Colt but Grace's name is on the deed, unbeknownst to her, and her sister wants to sell the family farm, but guess who doesn't want to sell. Then things get even more complicated and we all throw away our flow charts, and just give up, and WE just have to go with the flow. And through it all the Sheriff manages to keep her dignity, show grace under fire, and be steely-eyed and undeterable.
By the time we get to end of "Showdown In West Texas" I had the feeling that I had somehow shifted into an alternate dimension, but I bought into the whole improbability because of Stevens skill at juggling so many improbabilities in the air, and because the novel moves as such a speedy pace we don't often get a chance to think. Stevens obviously knew just how improbable the plot is as she keeps the whole plotline compressed to happening during a three-day period.
***Spoiler*** I loved this novel, and I think that it would make one helluva movie. There is one little caveat that keeps it from getting a five-star review though, and that is the happily-ever-after ending where the conflict between the sisters is patched up. Bah! The tension between the two should have continued and Ms. Stevens could have given us a sequel!!! Maybe a novel from Lily's point-of-view. As is, Grace, Lily, and Cage each have enough backstory for novels of their own, and there is a third sister, mentioned but never seen, that might be worth a looksee. Still, Stevens evidentially had a lot of fun writing "Showdown In West Texas" (Cage Nichols? Ms. Stevens, you ought to be ashamed.), and while Stevens was obviously was under the influence of the three big "Cs" (Caffeine, Chocolate, and (Nick) Cage movies), her fans ought to have a lot of fun reading it. So, improbable plot versus great entertainment? Lets just call it all even stevens.