Straddling a big, gray horse, a young boy rides into White River, a small isolated town with few people. A town he fled years before. He is alone and sick. Multiple questions percolate, but the first one is, “How can he carry on?” Readers who seek historical western adventures, will find Freckled Venom by Juliette Douglas a satisfying read to be enjoyed by all ages of readers, youngsters or seasoned.
Juliette Douglas writes with a unique Western voice, full of quirky phrases that establish character, humor, emotional content, and moves the story briskly along. The story is set in 1878, and the narrative revolves around the opposing goals of the town marshal and the obsessed bounty hunter. Its supporting characters are enjoyable, although some lean toward stereotypes, but this old-time Western presents an engaging hero and heroine.
Tension and conflicts are layered and contain some violence. The Marshal Rawley and the venomous woman Lacy suffer as they’re jammed together against vile weather: rain, wind, cold and snow, while hunting three brutal socio-pathic brothers. While the villains provide gripping conflict and suspense, an underlying theme through the story is Lacy’s irreparable childhood damage.
Rawley tries to break through her emotional barricade, but is returned with Lacy’s biting reactions. However, such interactions define these characters as they grow; both of them learning while searching for a way to deal with their dilemma. Two plots climax at the end of the dual hunts: the hunt for the murdering scum brothers and the hunt for a resolution to Lacy’s pain.
As the narrative deepens, internal and external dialogue represents character reflections, and drives home. In almost every conversation with Lacy, Rawley uses a nickname, partly with affection, but also to taunt her, and the nickname becomes tiresome to Lacy and maybe to the reader also. However, the payoff for reading past these bumps is thoroughly enjoying a story that makes the Old West come alive.
Douglas writes the physical senses organically; readers see, hear, touch, and smell everything in the setting, know the season, feel the weather, and can taste the dust. Freckled Venom, Douglas’ debut novel, brings the Old West to life with vivid settings, believable adventures, and suspenseful plotting. She weaves together danger, Lacy and Rawley’s growth, their longing for intimacy, and induces reader empathy for Lacy and Rawley right to the end. Readers wanting to know more can look forward to Douglas’s sequel, Freckled Venom: Copperhead Strikes.