Montana Legacy is the first and the foundation for a trilogy of novels about the “McCords” a family dynasty of ranchers whose history dates back to the 1800’s. Specifically, their ancestor “Jasper” and his son supposedly found a sack of gold nuggets at ‘Grasshopper Creek’ which was later stolen by another prospector. Jasper’s descendent “Gabriel ‘Coot’ McCord” made it his mission in life to find the gold that was purportedly buried somewhere on the thousands of acres of rangeland owned by the family. In fact, the quest for the treasure consumed three generations of McCords. The treasure is thought to be “cursed”. Unfortunately old Coot’s obsession with finding it ripped his family apart and only one of his three sons remained on the ‘Lost Nugget’ ranch to raise his strong minded son “Jesse”. As noted in the synopsis, Montana Legacy is Jesse’s story.
Jesse and his first cousins “Wyatt” and “Zane”, had been closer than brothers during their early years growing up in their large extended family on the ranch. However, when Wyatt and Zane’s parents left and took them to other parts of the country the boys became estranged. Jesse was young when his parents died and was raised by Coot and his sister “Cora” an eccentric, brilliant artist. Coot was therefore a father figure for Jesse and he loved his grandfather and his Aunt Cora beyond measure.
As the story opens, old Coot has passed away after an accident which brings Wyatt and Zane back to the ranch for the funeral. This is the first time they have been back since their parents took them away. Jesse is very angry with his cousins as he feels they neglected their grandfather for all these years. So, while the reunion for Wyatt and Zane is warm, it is less so with Jesse. Ms. Ryan wrote 3 strong Alpha males in the McCord cousins, each unique and there are hints Zane particularly did not have an easy life after leaving the ranch. I loved Aunt Cora, the matriarch of the family who, despite the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the boys reunion wants them to find the friendship they once shared. It is, after all what Coot would have wanted.
“Amy Parrish”, Jesse’s childhood sweetheart, also attends Coot’s funeral. The circumstances surrounding the dissolution of Amy and Jesse’s previous relationship was painful and the introspective thoughts related by the author for these characters lets readers know that misconceptions are held by both. Amy is a gentle willowy woman whose strength of character and determination belies her form. Amy had returned to town from her job in another part of the state to tend to her ailing father. She intends to return to ‘Helena‘ and her teaching position when her father’s health issues are resolved.
After the funeral Cora, Jesse, Wyatt, Zane, “Dandy Davis and Cal Randall” (long-time employees at the ranch and close friends to Coot) are called together for the reading of the Last Will and Testament. Coot proves to be an extremely wealthy man and a very clever one at that. He essentially manipulates Wyatt and Zane into staying on the ranch and working with Jesse to continue the search for the “lost treasure”. Jesse is less than happy about this arrangement but as it turns out Coot knows what he was doing because following some rough first weeks it forces the cousins to work together toward a common goal, trying to piece together the snippets of their grandfather’s efforts to find the treasure.
I found Jesse and Amy’s love story to be a subplot woven into the family history and dynamic in the narrative of this book. They certainly have chemistry and there is considerable conflict because of an old family feud between Coot and Amy’s curmudgeonly father, and misconceptions concerning what ended their previous relationship. However, there is a lot going on in this story which IMHO lessened the page time given to the rekindling of Amy and Jesse's feelings for one another and eventual reunion. That being said, Ms. Ryan writes a couple of nasty antagonists into a suspense subplot involving threats on Amy’s life and adds a couple of plot twists that were surprising. I was shocked by the identity of one of the bad guys who isn't revealed until the closing pages. In addition there is lots of action, including a scene involving the McCord cousins in a barroom brawl that was great fun, a car chase through the country and a near death experience. Ms. Ryan does have a lovely voice, her lush descriptive prose is excellent, I also found the dialogue and tone appropriate to the setting of the story.
Wyatt’s story “Montana Destiny” is to be published in May 2010, and I’m looking forward to the read. I’m very curious to see where Ms. Ryan will take the McCords next.
If you enjoy a story about a large extended family reunited on a sprawling western ranch with a lovers reacquainted theme, you may like to try “Montana Legacy”.
Heat Level: Good sexual tension and chemistry, not sexually explicit. A sweet love story.
My Rating: 3.5/5 A good read.