Matt Braun’s Kinch Riley may well be one of the most underappreciated westerns written in modern times. Braun’s tale (St. Martin's Paperback Edition 2000) is based on a true story that took place in Newton, Kansas in 1871. Accounts of this episode vary widely, but the Topeka Daily commonwealth maintains that six men died in the space of ninety seconds and several others were wounded. Braun’s story makes this episode in Western history absolutely riveting and intriguing. Prepare for a wild ride once the novel starts.
There are several things Braun does in this book that are irresistible. First, the main character, McCluskie, is the classic western man to the core. Tall, moody, and quiet, the man inspires fear, respect and hatred in equal amounts in other men. He’s a no-nonsense man whose past has made an indelible mark on him, assuring for all time that the man will never have a rosy future. To a degree, he enjoys the discomfort he sees in others’ reactions to him, and relishes this power. Women melt; men fear.
Braun’s other intriguing character is, of course, Kinch Riley, a consumptive, wandering boy/man who McCluskie takes under his wing after almost killing him. Riley adores McCluskie, who introduces the lad to women, whiskey and clearing leather.
The plot of the story moves along smoothly and is largely believable, and the host of other characters in the book are well drawn and true to form. There’s plenty of action and lovemaking also. The ending is absolutely staggering and shocking because of its unexpectedness, however. In fact, it’s so original it’s almost too much to bear! The ending will not satisfy the reader, because it’s not what readers are groomed to expect. While Riley succeeds in his endeavor, the book still closes on an unusual note.
Sexuality in Kinch Riley
Another interesting issue with Braun is his incredible ability to write sexuality into the book without crossing the prudish line of classic westerns which allow only for ladies to be admired. One may lust after one, but they are rarely touched – witness Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. He does not cross the line in Kinch Riley, but he daringly, and entertainingly, walks the line. He is explicitly suggestive without resorting to raunchiness or sordidness. He writes about sex as only a man can, quite frankly. And he totally gets away with it. Gotta love this man!
Braun's Indian Territory
Indian Territory is also included in this particular publication. After the heat and drama of Kinch Riley, Indian Territory pales in comparison, but it’s actually a very fine book and very instructive regarding the railroad wars and race to criss-cross the country with track.
Indian Territory is a book that is obviously well-researched and written, and it’s refreshing when Braun presents things from an Indian point of view, yet doesn’t fall into the snare of making the Indians “victims” and innocents.