Jim Hunter and Matt Harrison are best friends and the owners of the once-thriving Double H ranch in Trinity Creek, Texas. Their cowpunchers have heeded the call of the Civil War and now they are trying to keep the enterprise afloat in lean times. It does not help that the Double H’s cattle is a frequent target for rustlers and that the sole remaining member of their crew is disabled Mexican-American War veteran Walter Burridge.
When the raiders take their pillaging a step further and burn the ranch to the ground, killing Old Walt in the process, the partners have no option but to leave the area and look for a job in the nearby port city of Brownsville. Matt and Jim soon realize that the war has also exerted its toll on the once-busy border town as work is hard to come by. Matt, a Union sympathizer, joins the Northern Army while the pro-Confederacy Jim chooses to stick around. He soon hooks up with the sensuous Lena-Marie Baptiste and her brother Raoul whom, among other business ventures, smuggle guns for the southern forces.
Peace at Any Price by Chap O’Keefe is the quintessential action-packed Western and as such it seems to fit right in with the rest of the Black Horse Western (BHW) line. Sparsely written and at times frantically-paced, it introduces the characters with a few broad strokes and then wastes no time in pitting them against all sorts of challenges. Jim returns from the war but the Double H and Trinity Creek no longer feel like home, not in the least because his former darling Alice Cornhill has married someone else in the interim. Fate leads him right back to the Baptistes, their dubious business concerns and a face-to-face encounter with the ruthless Woodson Waldrop, the man he suspects burnt down the Double H.
In this age of bloated techno-thrillers and three-page chapters designed not to upset MTV-addled attention spans, Peace at Any Price is a refreshing story that delivers genuine, non-stop entertainment. Its rhythm might play against itself at times and perhaps the climactic ending – involving a mandatory shootout, a damsel in distress and a catastrophic natural disaster – could have been resolved in less haste. Nonetheless, this is a highly recommended yarn that can only lead the Western reader to ask himself why BHW titles are for the most unavailable in the American market. Published since 1986 by Robert Hale Ltd. with a packaging and glossy covers that are almost as attractive as their action-oriented storylines, this is a line that provides a venue for many authors that are not only talented and passionate about Westerns, but well worth the effort to track down.