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The Texas Job


The Texas Job

One of the many ways that having children keeps you humble is that you have to constantly explain things from the recent past that you know all about but aren’t part of anyone’s current conversation. I had to explain just this very evening that they used to market a certain brand of canned soup by claiming you could eat it with a fork. (YouTube is a big help with stuff like that.)

So you never know what you’re going to have to explain. I say that to say this: You know about Jack Reacher, right? He is a former military policeman who ambles across America, inexplicably backing into various evil schemes across this great country, armed with his fists and a pocket toothbrush. The character was conceived by the great Lee Child, who I almost got to meet at a writer’s conference. If you’ve read any of these books, you know who I’m talking about; if you don’t, well, you have the opportunity to educate yourself.

"THE TEXAS JOB brilliantly transforms the lone wolf drifter genre into a gripping piece of historical fiction."

There are two problems with this series. First, the plot frequently hangs on Reacher being in just the right place at the right time to learn about the evil scheme and derail it. Secondly, you’re probably not going to be too successful in trying to imitate that particular style. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but like Tom Wolfe’s test pilots, I wouldn’t recommend it.

It is more than a little unfair to say that Reavis Z. Wortham is engaging in literary horse theft in THE TEXAS JOB. But there is no denying that he has done something very difficult here: he has taken a character very much in the Jack Reacher mode and --- this is the brilliant part --- put him in a historical novel.

I know, right?

The character here is Tom Bell, and unlike Reacher, he is not physically imposing. He does have the cinco peso badge of the Texas Rangers, and that counts for a lot just by itself. Bell is engaged on a routine job for a Ranger: tracking a murderer from the Rio Grande Valley to the East Texas pines --- which at this moment, in the depths of the Great Depression, is bustling with activity. THE TEXAS JOB is set during the heady days of the East Texas oil rush, with small towns being overrun by wildcatters and roughnecks --- trailing alcohol, easy virtue and corruption in their wake.

Wortham’s Rangers are interesting, complicated characters (although the historic Texas Rangers weren’t quite the righteous paladins of the silver screen; check out CULT OF GLORY by Doug J. Swanson), and they have to contend with more than their fair share of grifters, rascals and scoundrels. Bell finds the oil boomtowns filled to the brim with evil schemes, and he handles them with alacrity, bravado and sheer competence in the dark arts of law enforcement.

You could argue that the action is a little bit over the top, and that would be fair, but Wortham does such a good job of describing the predicaments that Bell gets into that it would be unfair to complain. He also displays his narrative gifts in describing the cafés, hotels and remote farmhouses of the region. THE TEXAS JOB brilliantly transforms the lone wolf drifter genre into a gripping piece of historical fiction.

Reviewed by Curtis Edmonds on February 18, 2022

The Texas Job
by Reavis Z. Wortham