Liberty and a Law Badge
A Black Horse Extra Book, 2010
Ostensibly Liberty and a Law Badge is centered around Joshua Dillard, a disgraced Pinkerton detective hired sight unseen by cattle baron Barnaby Lant to investigate rustling of cattle from Lant's Flying L Ranch. But when Dillard arrives in town, he witnesses the beating and dumping of an old man, Crazy Bob McGill. When he starts to investigate the assault, Dillard finds himself in the middle of a wasp's nest of crooked lawmen who are in cohoots with Lant.
Dillard finds out that McGill was beaten because he was witness to a horrifying scene, one that would not play well with law abiding people. While playing Peeping Tom at Devil's Lake, McGill had discovered Sheriff Vickers, also known as "Dirty Dan" forcing a young woman, Liberty, to have sex with him. What made it even more horrible is that Liberty is McGill's daughter, a sweet young woman who had been blackmailed to preserve her husband, spineless rancher Tom Tolliver who had been caught changing a cattle brand with a running-iron. The prolonged kidnap and rape of Liberty, not only by Vickers but by others who join him later, is at the centerpiece of this book.
Like many people, I've never been comfortable reading scenes where sexual violence is inflicted on women, and I've been known to walk out of theatres during rape scenes. This may partly be due to the fact that I have two close friends that have been raped by strangers. I do not take the portrayal of rape in books or movies lightly, especially when the scenes are gratuitous or voyeuristic. So you can imagine how uncomfortable I felt when as I continued to read Liberty and a Law Badge, I realized that this problem between Liberty and Sheriff Vickers wasn't going to go away anytime soon.
But what kept me going was O'Keefe's sensitive approach to the scenes and his interweaving of the oppressive lives that women had to lead in the 19th century into the book. It also helps that Dillard's focus shifts instantly from dealing with the job that he was hired to do -- to investigate cattle rustling -- to finding a way to rescue Liberty from her plight in the cabin at Devils Lake. Believe me, there would have been men in the real 19th century west that would have shrugged off Vickers' dehumanization of Liberty as just being the way of the world. Dillard's determination to help Liberty as his number one priority endeared me to him forever.
It's an action-driven novel and a page turner that will keep you going until the very end. And the end is worth all of the discomfort you feel when reading about Liberty's helplessness: the ending is chaotic, surprising and actually pretty funny. Or maybe that's just my take on it because I love it when women who have been victimized come back and get theirs. Revenge can be so sweet.
Liberty and a Law Badge is available from Lulu.com and from Amazon and all other usual retailers.