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Dark Frontier by Matthew Harffy

DARK FRONTIER by Matthew Harffy


A man can flee from everything but his own nature.

1890. Lieutenant Gabriel Stokes of the British Army has left behind the horrors of war in Afghanistan, and the squalid streets of London as a Metropolitan Police officer for the wilderness of the American West, longing for peace and meaning.

But Oregon & the beautiful Blue Mountains are far from the idyll he has yearned for. With the frontier a complex patchwork of feuds and felonies, and ranchers as vicious as any back alley cut-throat in London, Gabriel finds himself unable to escape his past and the demons that drive him. Can he find a place for himself on the far edge of the New World?



Behind every 'favourite' book - beyond the compelling writing - is a lucky admixture of context, headspace and time. Two books in particular stand out in this regard.

My favourite in 1994 was River God by Wilbur Smith, which I started when I was a sixth former on the way to row in Greece on my first solo trip abroad. I was about to join an international crew of men and women with a shade more life experience than me: university buddies; members of the armed forces; adventurers and even the odd retiree. Being a bit nervous about fitting in, this tale of heroism and adventure really helped me relax into it.

I read Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres in 1999 after finishing university and just before stepping into my first job (quite a brief step too, as it happened!). I had a holiday planned to Kefalonia and had fallen in love with the island and its history, so the timing was perfect.

Would these books have made quite the same impact had I been at a different stage of life, though? Perhaps not. Doubtless the same is true of others since then...

When I was sent this proof, the only context was feeling knackered at the end of what seemed like an interminable winter and with the daunting prospect of piles of marking and exams to set. The fact that this book grabbed me from the first page, with little appetite for reading at the time, is proof of how bloody good it is. It is a phenomenally well written and twisty fusion of classic western, tense Victorian detective thriller, with a bit of Jack Reacher thrown in. The unlikely pairing of the principled British officer Gabriel Stokes and the wild frontiersman Jedediah White works brilliantly. There are no pantomime villains here: just shades of light and dark, with every man and woman contending with their own demons. And somehow, the author also manages to weave some genuinely snappy humour into the mix!

In fact, Matthew Harffy has written a great American novel - with his first shot at the genre -and Dark Frontier is now a very firm favourite of mine! In fact, I'm in the market for a first edition hardback when it's released to join the top shelf of River God, Corelli, Circe and various others by Mary Renault or Robert Harris.

He modestly states in the end notes that the plotting is not so different from his novels set in the Dark Ages. Thematically, maybe, but dialogue... No way! The dialogue is impeccable and is indicative of the dizzying amount of research he must have undertaken. I defy you not to read this in the voice of a John Wayne or Clint Eastwood!

I urge you to reserve a copy now and immerse yourself in the evocative and dangerous vastness of the American west!

Release: 4th July


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