Dut­ton/Pen­guin, 525 pages

Pasatiempo - - IN OTHER WORDS - Coun­try. Times Back­lands, The Last Ranch, Hard The New York

Michael McGar­rity’s tril­ogy of the Ker­ney fam­ily ranch is the story of most ranches in New Mex­ico: hard work, no money, and an un­re­lent­ing sun. The mem­bers of our state’s ranch­ing fam­i­lies may have dif­fer­ent names and dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties than the Ker­neys, but the list of tribu­la­tions is the same: al­co­hol, bu­reau­crats and bankers, cat­tle prices, drought — all the way to the end of the al­pha­bet.

The Santa Fe-based au­thor has writ­ten a new book in the tril­ogy ev­ery cou­ple of years. He be­gan with the story of John Ker­ney in

The fam­ily pa­tri­arch i s an early- day An­glo set­tler in the Tu­larosa Basin of south­ern New Mex­ico, con­tend­ing with cat­tle rustlers, mur­der­ers, feud­ing neigh­bors, and the un­for­giv­ing desert. The next book, in­tro­duces his son Pa­trick Ker­ney and his grand­son Matthew. It be­gins with the af­ter­math of World War I and takes the fam­ily through the Great De­pres­sion and World War II. The fi­nal vol­ume, has just been pub­lished. It fea­tures Pa­trick and Matthew and in­tro­duces Kevin, the fourth-gen­er­a­tion Ker­ney.

In ad­di­tion to be­ing full of ad­ven­ture, each book i s a true his­tor­i­cal novel, an ac­cu­rate pic­ture of the Amer­i­can West. When my fam­ily sits around our ranch’s din­ing ta­ble, we tell sto­ries of the same events that the Ker­neys lived t hrough. The In­dian Wars had tragic con­se­quences for Na­tives who had t rav­eled across t he l and for gen­er­a­tions. Then sur­vey­ors, l awyers, and fences came, dis­pos­sess­ing the long­time His­panic set­tlers. There were good times when cat­tle prices soared dur­ing the Span­ishAmer­i­can War, the Boer War, and two World Wars. But the bad times were worse, dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion and in t he droughts of t he 1920s and 1950s.

With each gen­er­a­tion, life seems to get phys­i­cally eas­ier for the Ker­ney men. Fences, au­to­mo­biles and roads, elec­tric­ity, in­door plumb­ing, and tele­phones de­crease the ranch’s iso­la­tion. The younger gen­er­a­tions are able to fin­ish high school and at­tend col­lege. Fam­ily mem­bers can find work in town to make ends meet. The con­nec­tion to the land be­comes less bru­tal, lead­ing to fewer good cow­boy sto­ries in the lat­ter part of the tril­ogy. Yet for the Ker­neys, there is al­ways an­other ad­ven­ture off the ranch. Suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions fought in the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War, both World Wars, and in Viet­nam. And when the boys weren’t be­ing shipped over­seas to get shot at, the U. S. govern­ment was try­ing to take their land for the White Sands Mis­sile Range. The Ker­neys are a tough and re­silient bunch, es­pe­cially the women join­ing the fam­ily, who qui­etly save the fam­ily fi­nances, are nat­u­rals in the sad­dle, and can shoot a ma­rauder dead if nec­es­sary.

McGar­rity’s writ­ing i s as clear as the desert air at the Ker­neys’ 7- Bar-K Ranch, and he has a tal­ent for telling good sto­ries. Read­ers have rec­og­nized this by putting some of his books on

best­seller list. Last year he won the Santa Fe Mayor’s Award for Ex­cel­lence in the Arts in lit­er­a­ture. More than a decade ago he won a sim­i­lar award at the state level.

Any­one who is a fan of the au­thor’s pop­u­lar Kevin Ker­ney crime sto­ries should read this au­then­tic Western tril­ogy ex­plain­ing the law­man’s fam­ily back­ground. — Robin Martin

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