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Catherine Crocker has put up with a lot from her husband Willard, but when he slaps her face in front of his whole mining crew that's the last straw and she rides away from camp planning to leave him forever.  Meanwhile, John Wesley "Jay" Grobart was once a respected Army officer, a captain of Mounted Rifles, but when he revenged himself upon the three fellow white men who raped and murdered his Indian wife, Cat Dancing, he was sent to prison for ten years.  Now he's gotten a rather motley gang together to rob a train.  Their paths cross when Catherine rides into the midst of the train robbery and Grobart is forced to take her with him as they are pursued across the 1880's Wyoming Territory by Harvey Lapchance--agent for Wells, Fargo and an ex-Pinkerton who just happens to be the man who arrested Grobart those years ago--and his posse which, much to Lapchance's chagrin, includes the loutish, violent, and increasingly drunken Harvey Crocker.

As they flee, Grobart has to try to protect Catherine from his unruly cohorts and from marauding Indians.  In turn, she gradually unravels his secrets, learning that there was more to Cat Dancing's death than folks realize and that Grobart is purposely headed into Indian territory to retrieve his children, who are being raised by their Shoshone uncle, Iron Knife.  Initially forced together by mere circumstance, there is an obvious attraction between Catherine and Grobart, but he is still very much haunted by the past.  Catherine though, quickly adapts to her newfound freedom and turns out to be more than a match for Grobart and for the ghost of Cat Dancing.

Many of the greatest Westerns have featured strong female characters (see Orrin's reviews of Shane, Riders of the Purple Sage, and The Virginian), so this one is hardly groundbreaking, but Durham does bring a distinctly feminist sensibility to the story and, though there's plenty of action, keeps her focus on the relationship between Grobart and Catherine.  Grobart, tortured by memories of his past, is a particularly compelling character, but it is Catherine's development into an independent and capable woman which holds the story together.  They make for an unusual and interesting couple in this really fine Western.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Book-related and General Links:
    -ESSAY : Popping the Question (Nancy Kress)
    -REVIEW : of FLAMBARD'S CONFESSION By Marilyn Durham (Mona Simpson, NY Times Book Review)

    -INFO : The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973) (Imdb)