Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this eBook to read and review. All thoughts are 100% my own and are given without restraint.
Lady Joe by Mark Saha
“Lee Estes somehow manages to lose a champion cutting horse scheduled to be picked up by a buyer. The unsophisticated buyer only wants Lady Joe as a trophy horse to impress guests in his back yard, so Lee buys a cheap no-talent blue roan replacement. When the buyer tells Lee to enter her in a weekend cutting for photographs, he must scramble to find a blue roan cutter to substitute for his bogus horse. By chance, the only one around belongs to Jim Harrison’s wife, who is thinking about divorcing Jim and has a low opinion of Lee. Then Jim sees in Lee’s hustle a desperate shot at saving his marriage. The boys embark on a humorous misadventure that becomes an affectionate glimpse at the sport of cutting and a trenchant comment on the future of the horse in a world where it is no longer essential to everyday life.”
When I was contacted to review this book, I jumped at the chance. How many books, even equine focused ones, are about cutting horses? Answer: not many.
My knowledge of the cutting world is basically this: really good cow horses try to keep a calf from going back to the heard. I don’t know the nuances or how the competitions work but you get the feeling from reading this book that Saha does. Or at least he did his research. I thought the competition where they ran Mary Jane under the name of Spooks pretending she’s Lady Joe was particularly well done. Sah managed to explain how a cutting competition worked without just dumping exposition on the reader. The story continued to move and, for those uninitiated in the cutting world, managed to educate the reader.
This novel dumps you in the middle of the conflict, for good or worse. At first I was a little confused about what was happening. All I could figure out was that Lee had some crazy scheme up his sleeve all having to do with a lost horse and a potential buyer. Saha does a great job with the dialog which is fast paced. It really helps bring you in to this world of cowboys and ranch hands of the modern Wild West. In fact, I think one of the best ways to sum up this novel is as a modern western.
Lee and Jim are a fun duo, with Lee taking the reins and Jim acting as his easily over powered conscious. The world is populated by a bunch of other fun characters such as Mr. Pederson and Jim’s wife Francine. There is one moment in the book where, in an attempt to flesh out Francine, I think Saha goes off on a tangent that never leads to anything important, but I’m willing to forgive that. The main characters keep things light hearted and I spent a lot of time wondering how the heck Lee’s complicated scheme was ever actually going to work, or waiting for them to get caught.
In the end, somehow, Lee manages to pull off quite a con and walks away with a fairly happy ending.
As an equestrian, I did have to suspend some disbelief and just let myself enjoy the story. For example, I couldn’t imagine even a non-horse person being willing to spend $400,000 on a pasture pet or without doing their due diligence. I would have expected they’d want to purchase Lady Joe to show her at the very least and I would have expected a vet check or something. However, that definitely would have slowed the story down!
I have gone back and forth on whether or not I actually liked the ending. It seems a little too perfect but it does fit with the lighthearted feel of the novel and not every book has to be a major drama. I enjoyed this western and would recommend it to anyone who lives out in the ranch world (it made me miss Nevada!) or has more than a passing interest in cutting horses.