The first book in Genell Dellin's new western, historical series, The Renegades: Cole, is commendable. Despite his own misgivings about his character, Cole McCord is no reprobate, more a renegade "wanna-be" and very much a hero. His counterpart, Aurora Benton, is as independent as Cole and very much his equal. Throughout the story they operate outside societal norms; so, in a sense they are renegades, though neither lawless nor antisocial.
Cole McCord is a former Texas Ranger who left Texas because he blames himself for the death of his partner in a botched raid. He considers his quick-draw reputation burdensome, and avoids towns to escape the inevitable show-downs with young hotheads anxious to pit themselves against him.
Cole is in Pueblo City, Colorado, waiting to meet a prospective employer from the Pinkerton Agency, when an aspiring dime-novel-hero calls him out for a gunfight. Cole dreads the thought of killing the youngster but wants to live and is realistic about his choices. A hush falls over the town; another death appears inevitable. Then, Aurora Benton races into town, driving her rig between Cole and the boy. Cole dives for Aurora. They wind up in each others arms in the middle of the street, while the sheriff hauls the latest "Kid" off to jail.
Cole's first impression of Aurora is that she is beautiful but daft. When she announces he is the very person she wants to hire as a bodyguard, so she can drive her cattle "backwards" from Colorado to Texas, he is certain she is loco. It takes all her powers of persuasion to wear down his resistance. In the end, Cole opts to join her, telling himself he is not as interested in helping Aurora as he is anxious to get out of town and avoid another ugly scene with the liberated "Kid."
Aurora Benton was educated in the East, but has returned to Colorado hoping to become a successful rancher. Aurora inherited good Colorado ranchland, horses and a large herd of cattle — all on the brink of bankruptcy. Courted by neighboring, single males, Aurora decides she wants none of what they offer. With the help of a few men, she plans to drive her livestock to the Texas panhandle where land is still available. Unfortunately, very credible threats lead her to fear attacks on the trail. Thus, her need for Cole.
The heart of this picturesque story is the trail drive from Colorado to Texas. Dellin incorporates words of the time and place, bringing the experience alive. Her writing style is cinematic. Scenes ranging from a six-shooter lesson to a neck-and-neck horse race between Cole and Aurora are rendered so vividly a reader may feel a part of the action. When over two-thousand head of cattle emerge from a mountain pass in New Mexico into a thunderstorm, the elements – thunder, lightning and blinding rain, clashing horns and lethal hooves – in combination with Cole and Aurora, worrying about each other while discovering how well they work together – are rendered so vividly, the mental image is a lasting one.
There is also some gentle humor. An evening in the company of an old Mexican who seems to know the perfect spot for her ranch but speaks only Spanish, leads Aurora to muse: "Why had she studied French in Philadelphia? Spanish was what she needed now."
The Renegades: Cole has some flaws – heavy reliance on favorite words, two-dimensional secondary characters and a few typos. But, these do not detract significantly from the appeal of Dellin's writing. Hopefully, future installments in her Renegades' series will equal or better this first book.