Sawbones, by Melissa Lenhardt


Author: Melissa Lenhardt
Publisher: Redhook
ISBN: 9780316505390
Genre: Western | Historical Fiction


When Dr. Catherine Bennett is wrongfully accused of murder, she knows her fate likely lies with a noose unless she can disappear. Fleeing with a bounty on her head, she escapes with her maid to the uncharted territories of Colorado to build a new life with a new name. Although the story of the murderess in New York is common gossip, Catherine’s false identity serves her well as she fills in as a temporary army doctor. But in a land unknown, so large and yet so small, a female doctor can only hide for so long.


SAWBONES is raw, gritty and at times, violently graphic. The characters themselves could have been ripped out of a Dime novel of the day back in the late 1800s—with a woman on the run after being accused of murder she didn’t commit, Indians on the warpath, and a saddle-weary Army Captain with a dire secret of his own. Each adds their own story to the narrative as seen through the eyes of Lenhardt’s heroine, Catherine Bennett. A woman with the audacity to think she could be a doctor in a man’s world.

Escaping from the stifling confines of New York City after being wrongly accused of murder, Bennet flees to the Texas frontier with help form a childhood friend, James, and her Irish maid, Maureen. But the West is filled with more than its own fair share of dangers, from drunken cowpokes, to bounty hunters, and those trying to make a fast buck any where they can. Each more despicable than the last.

Heading toward a frontier town, the wagon train Maureen and Catherine—now calling herself Laura Elliston—are travelling on is attacked by marauding Indians. Everyone, except Laura, is brutally murdered. Chased off by an Army patrol, Laura is rescued by Captain William Kindle and his men. However, in the fight, Kindle is severely injured. But thanks to Laura’s skill as a surgeon, she’s able to save Kindle’s life. And thus, as the two are thrown together by chance and circumstances, a romance ignites.   

While at times SAWBONES is a page-turner with lots of gung-ho violent action, Lenhardt does try to tempers her unflinching portrayal of the West—and the prevailing attitudes of the times—with some thoughtful moments between various characters. However, even out in the wild west love can be a burden when trying to hide in plain sight. And, as passions run high between Kindle and Elliston, betrayal may have the last word in any hope of happiness. A spectre from Kindle’s past rides into town and demands the ultimate sacrifice of the couple. The result is an ending that goes completely over the top.

This is no rosy, glossy love-story, but a visceral look at how life in the wild west might have looked. With characters whose lives are torn apart by circumstances, in a brutal world vividly brought to life by Lenhardt’s style of storytelling.

Sadly, for me, what’s lost in all this gore and violence, is a sense of familiarity and intimacy.

Rating: 3 / 10

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