The frontier has long felt like a fixture of the collective American psyche, and literature featuring western characters facing the struggles of the rural life has been around since the late 1800s. These western novels often featured tough characters with a firm sense of moral justice and skill with a gun. This archetypical character has continued into modern writing, but in recent decades has made the leap out of the western genre and into thrillers and mysteries in the form of rural law enforcement. This can be seen in Sherriff Walt Longmire (created by Craig Johnson), Game Warden Joe Pickett (created by C.J. Box), and Texas Ranger Rory Yates (created by Andrew Bourelle). These characters are now joined by Garrett Kohl, the main character in “Down Range,” the debut novel of author Taylor Moore.
In the opening moments of “Down Range” the reader is introduced to Kohl, a deep cover DEA agent, through a demonstration of both his bravery and his disregard for the rules when someone is in danger. Pulled from his posting in Afghanistan and sent back to his home town in Texas while the CIA covers up his mistake, Kohl is almost immediately plunged into a whirlwind of conflicts with his family, local oil politics, and a Mexican cartel’s heroin operation. His background in special forces has taught him the skills it takes to stay alive in dangerous situations, but will he be able to protect those he cares about most and get them out of harm’s way?
To me, the character of Garrett Kohl felt a little flat at the beginning of the book. His disregard of danger and his willingness to protect those he sees as innocent are strong motivations, but they don’t give much to separate him from other similar characters. It was only later, as Moore began to flesh out his background that I came to appreciate the novel. Violence is typical of this genre and this book does not shy away from death, but most of the violence was abstracted far enough to be tolerable and without excess gore. The cast of supporting characters around Kohl is set up well, and the strength of his relationship with his family by the end of the book is sure to play out well in future volumes. Overall, I would recommend this book with the caveat that if you don’t like gun violence this is one to skip. I am looking forward to future novels in the Garrett Kohl series.