The Cowboys: Buck
by Leigh Greenwood
(Leisure, $5.99, PG) ISBN: 0-8439-4360-2
Reviewing is invariably an exercise in comparison. While we would like to think that we evaluate every book on its "own terms," the fact is that we always have other books that were somehow similar in the back of our minds when we decide how a given book rates. These inevitable comparisons are even more prominent when a book is part of a series like Leigh Greenwood's latest, The Cowboys: Buck.

Buck is the third installment of Greenwood's planned series detailing the adventures of the group of young men (and one girl) adopted by Jake Maxwell and his wife Isabella back in book one of the series. This latest release has all the hallmarks of a Greenwood western: interesting characters, a fairly traditional but well presented plot, an accurate and detailed setting, and lots of action and adventure. But for this reader at least, it was not quite as compelling as Jake and Ward. Hence the three heart rating.

Buck was one of two boys that Jake and Isabella rescued from virtual slavery in the German sect's settlement of Utopia. (These same German settlers had swindled Jake out of his ranch while he was away fighting in the Civil War.) Six years have passed and Buck has returned to Utopia and to the ranch of Nathaniel Grosset, the man who had brutalized him and nearly killed him through forced labor. Buck is accompanied by Zeke, the former slave who had likewise been saved by the Maxwells. He has come back to get revenge, and the way he plans to do this is to gain control over the Grosset ranch. This is a possibility because Nathaniel has died and his wife Sarah and daughter Hannah are struggling to hold on to the property.

Hannah is 20 to Buck's 23. She is a lovely young woman with more than one suitor. She is also determined never to marry. Watching her father brutalize her mother and being the frequent victim of his heavy hand have convinced her that no sane woman would put herself in the power of a man. But she needs help if she is to save the ranch, and while she doesn't like Buck's terms he will receive half ownership if he can save the place she has no choice. Buck, for his part, remembers Hannah as a proud and uncaring girl who ignored her father's slaves. He has no time for any Grosset.

Thus, the love story: Can Hannah overcome her resistance to marriage as she comes to appreciate that Buck is so very different from the men she knows? Can Buck overcome his (misplaced) view of Hannah's earlier behavior and can he, who was abandoned by his mother and sold by his father, ever learn to trust anyone, even those who say they love him?

In addition, Greenwood serves up a fairly typical plot of ranchers uniting to deal with a ruthless rustler with Buck in the lead and with his Maxwell "family" come from New Mexico to help. There is also a subplot involving Buck's successful quest for his real sister and his discovery that blood ties do not true family feeling make. And there is the danger posed by one of Hannah's disappointed suitors.

I liked Greenwood's handling of the love story. Buck and Hannah are both young, and the author captures something of the innocence of young love/first love in the few but sweet love scenes. I also thought Greenwood's treatment of the relationship between Buck and Zeke was well done. And I enjoyed meeting the Maxwell brood once again.

But despite my own positive feelings about Buck, I'm not sure I can give it an unqualified recommendation. I think one reason I enjoyed it was because I had read the first two books in the series. This installment did not quite measure up in interest and intensity to the previous books. Still, if you like Greenwood's western romances, you will probably enjoy Buck. I do and I did.

--Jean Mason

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