Review by Robert D. McKee, June issue
Fugitive Sheriff opens with the murder of Luke Willford Simms, sheriff of Summit County in Utah Territory. His son, Deputy John Willford Simms, determined to bring the killer to justice, pins on his father’s sheriff’s badge. One year prior to the sheriff’s murder, the Edmunds Act of 1882 became the law, and things are changing in Utah. Under this act, polygamy has become a felony, and cohabitation, the living with or supporting a second family, has become a misdemeanor. John Willford Simms has a second family, and while he pursues his father’s killer, he is pursued by marshals of the federal government. Edward Massey writes a gripping, historically accurate tale of a stalwart man’s search for justice in a turbulent time of politics and greed.
Historical Novel Society
Review by Jeff Westerhoff
In July 1883, during the celebration of Pioneer Day in Coalville in Summit County, Utah Territory, the Sheriff is killed in a shoot-out. Arriving late on the scene, his son, who is one of the deputies, appoints himself sheriff and intends to locate the men responsible. The new sheriff, John Willford Simms, is a Mormon and has two wives. Because of the Edwards Act, recently passed in Washington, men who practice polygamy in the Utah Territory are to be arrested. Marshals are then sent to Utah to carry out the law. Meanwhile Simms is on the trail of those responsible for killing his father while remaining hidden from the marshals to avoid his capture.
I enjoyed this western because of its unusual subject: the Mormon religion and its practice of polygamy. My only reservation about the story was the sheriff’s continued ability to enter and leave the town without being caught. He seemed to perform his job with little worry until near the end of the book. An interesting story line, though, and an enjoyable read.
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The Western Fiction Shelf
From the moment he pins his father’s bloodied star on his chest, Sheriff Simms fulfills his calling, hunts his father’s killer, and eludes the U.S. marshal with his fallen-away Mormon deputies who hunt the sheriff for the bounty on his head levied because he maintains two families. Over four years, the sheriff brings the killer to justice and stays a step ahead of the marshals. When the deputized Judases capture Simms, his community engineers his escape. Legislation dissolves his church and transfers its property to the government. The U.S. marshal faces greater profits as court receiver. The murderer must stand before the firing squad if Sheriff Simms is to no longer be a hunted fugitive. While also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99), Edward Massey’s “Fugitive Sheriff” is a deftly crafted and inherently riveting western by an author with a distinctive narrative storytelling style combined with an inherent mastery of the genre.