30.5.13

THE SHIRT OFF HIS BACK, by Barbara Hambly

10/series. Benjamin January, a free man of color, facing financial ruin as bank after bank fail, is hired by New Orleans policeman Abishag Shaw to accompany him into the Rocky Mountains. January agrees, leaving his pregnant wife Rose at the mercy of a fever-ridden New Orleans summer, and travels for months with Shaw and the newly-sober fiddler Hannibal Sefton. The annual Mountain Men Rendezvous at Green River holds the secret to who killed Shaw’s younger brother. As always, many threads are woven to make this plot: plains Indians, both friendly and seeking white scalps; drunken Mountain Men with their larger-than-life stories and lives; strumpets of all ages; conniving fur traders; and a psychotic refugee from civilization. January is brought into it all, to the point that he is nearly scalped. Does he return home? Does Hannibal return to his old narcotic-soaked ways? Is the killer unmasked? Who is Heppelwhite? Is murder avenged? And...is it a boy or a girl? This look at a Mountain Man gathering, at Benjamin out in the wilds (very wild), at Indian and settler life and the inexorable march of white encroachment, is a very satisfying 5.