Rattler - Cap Iversen (#3 in the Dakota Series)
The last in the three book series about Dakota Taylor the gunfighter and arguably the best. In book two, Silver Saddles, Dakota leaves Bennie, his lover, to avenge an attempt on his life. Bennie is a figure only in Dakota’s mind as he makes his way through the tough mountains and some even tougher men. In this book, however, as if Bennie has put his foot down about being sidelined—they’re together, and they share the adventure. And it’s a much more satisfying read because of it. Dakota Taylor and Bennie Coulson are a totally mismatched, tempestuous pair, and they are so much fun to read!
The plot of this novel interweaves Dakota’s offer to aid a marshal to capture an escaped bandit and Bennie’s attempts to solve the murder of a young man. Dakota’s mission takes him off into the inhospitable Texas/Mexico borderlands to bring to justice the bandit accused of the young man’s death. However, Bennie has found some letters written to the man by a lover that cast doubt on the conviction. In the most delightful scene in the book, Bennie reads the letters to Dakota in bed. To Dakota’s delight, he discovers that the lover was a man and that the letters are full of lurid, pornographic descriptions of sex. We don’t actually get to hear the content of the letters, the author is always more subtle than that, but we see the effects on Dakota! It’s a beautifully realised scene and very poignantly brings home the isolation gay men must have felt, unable to see or hear anything that described their kind of loving.
There is no graphic sex in this novel, but that doesn’t mean the loving isn’t there. It’s in every word Dakota speaks, every action he takes. He’s wallowing in his love for Bennie and when Bennie’s life is endangered by his quest to find the truth, Dakota’s love is the only thing standing between them and disaster.
There are no absolutes in Dakota’s world except the land, which is always harsh and unforgiving. People can never be taken at face value: hard, murdering bandits turn out to be family men with consciences and codes of ethics. Good, respectable citizens hide secret evils. Dakota never judges people, except where they harm him or his, and he expects that freedom to be extended to him as well. He never flaunts that he’s a lover of men (I hesitate to use the expression gay for Dakota as nothing could be further from the truth and he wouldn’t recognise that description of himself), but he never hides it either. This book confronts some of those issues, looking at people’s reactions to finding out that the murdered man was a hustler (or fallen dove as Bennie sweetly calls him).
This is the last in the series, although there’s no indication why that should be. It actually looks as if the author was setting up some themes for subsequent books. It’s such a shame. I urge you to try these books. They are just compelling and Dakota’s voice will be in your mind long after you’ve finished them.
contains spoilers for the end of Silver Saddles, #2 in the series!)
If you’ve read #2 Silver Saddles- and if not, why not?- you’ll be wondering what happened after its precipitate ending. Dakota returned to his lover after long absence, hoping to find him ready, willing and waiting, and seemed a mite surprised when Junior didn’t exactly fall into his arms. Well, it’s 3 years on, and the two men remain firmly coupled, so we must draw our own conclusions. Two Rivers where Bennie and Dakota have their ranch attracts increased numbers of settlers, and their little log cabin has grown into a proper house, where they have a real fireplace around which they sit for intellectual discussions (says Dakota dryly) with friends from the community.
Dakota and Bennie are travelling on a stagecoach bound for New Jersey, where they’re to take tea with Walt Whitman. Bennie’s got a letter he’s only too happy to read aloud, to Dakota’s chagrin, jealous of anyone paying attention to Junior, even aged poets. Rather a sore point with our ex gunfighter just how impressed his boy is by poetry, especially since he’s been forced into a suit and tie for the occasion.
Accompanying them across Texas is Marshall Cameron Brooks and prisoner, Judd Brooks, whom Dakota recognises as cohort of Mexican bandit Juan Caballe. Brooks is to hang for the murder of young Clay James, a hustler from Washington, DC, with friends in high places. Clay was lying low in Broken Wagon Wheel when he caught the eye of local banker, Richard Mecum. Mecum isn’t your average Texan male. He has a zealously guarded pond and grows orchids in the middle of a desert. He also has a reputation to keep and greedy Clay is a threat.
Inevitably Caballe’s men attack the stage and make off with the prisoner. Marshall Cameron wants Dakota for his deputy. Now Dakota says he’s afraid of Bennie’s wrath if he misses tea with Walt, but Judd Brooks has got his precious Colt .44s, so it doesn’t take much arm twisting to persuade him. Yet again our boys must part, Dakota’s two halves at war, settled married man and footloose gunfighter. He’s exhilarated to ride the trail again, though his thoughts are ever with doe-eyed Bennie and his beautiful body. Cameron sees fire in Dakota’s belly as he faces death. It’s plain he needs danger like he needs a man, wild urges only Bennie can calm.
Squeaky bedsprings and headboard hammering, with Bennie almost in a dead faint, even a bit of foot/leg rubbing, provide greater erotic pleasure than more explicit sex scenes. We must tease out clues, but clearly Dakota is always top, and their need for each other undimmed after 5 years. Dakota, confident in his masculinity, is happy to use endearments like ‘sweetheart’ and ‘darlin’. They find erotic letters from Clay’s boyfriend, and Dakota’s delight reminds us how rare it was for men to read about love like theirs.
The focus of the story is male love, tolerance and self-acceptance. Dakota gets straight away that Judd, a gunfighter like himself, would never strangle anyone, and the letters lead to suspicions about Clay blackmailing a local man. Marshall Cameron remains charmingly oblivious of all this male desire surging around him, insisting there’s none of that sort of thing in Texas. Bennie’s fear of Dakota exposing them is at odds with his proud use of the term ‘homosexual’. Dakota has less truck with fancy words than the courage to admit what you are. Dakota asks no one’s permission to love his man. Richard Mecum was driven to kill by his fear of exposure, yet Judd cheerfully admits using men at a pinch.
The plot has the usual twists and turns, and more than enough excitement to please. Toward the end I could scarcely breathe for fear of what was to come. Later, Dakota admits he was afraid of losing everything. For he has changed. He stays with Cameron though he has no personal quarrel with Caballe and his gang. He meets a feared Apache warrior with bravery undaunted but domesticity has tamed his wilder urges. It’s what Dakota and Bennie have that’s the true face of civilisation, freedom to live and love and make something together. Men like them made the West for the rest.
Publisher: Alyson Publications ISBN: 1555832288
Buy Rattler! (Dakota S.) from Amazon UK here
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