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It's a story of good guy Warren McKay, who graduates from the sheriff's academy and heads out on his first solo patrol armed with sprouting self-confidence and a fistful of idealism. Warren tells his own story in a calm, deliberate voice that is all good manners and earnestness, giving the reader that campfire feeling of blankets and hot coffee on a chilly night under the stars. He starts out as a rookie central-Arizona deputy, wanting to prove himself worth his salt and eager to protect and serve. And he immediately gets the chance when he encounters a young man trapped on a small ledge in the middle of a large rock face. One false move-or a misguided bit of advice from Warren-could send the man plummeting to his demise. It's a tough first day at the office.
From day one, Warren escorts the reader through his experiences-some funny, some tragic, and some violent-as he immerses himself in the world of crime, crisis, and rescue. As the years pass, he becomes a seasoned deputy, joking with the guys in the briefing room and taking shots at some of the officers' pomposity. The calls from dispatch pile in, sending him to the scene of traffic accidents, shootings, poaching, and cattle rustling, until one day, at the end of a car chase, he nearly meets his match.
Four muscle-bound ruffians exit their vehicle, against Warren's bullhorn orders, and they don't seem to care about the shotgun trained on them. Warren stiffens in preparation for a nasty fight. But then, they suddenly open their fists and give up. Warren looks behind him to see a lanky cowboy in a well-worn Stetson. This is Jesse Welles, owner of the Pot Hooks-J Ranch and a man who seems to have stepped right out of cowboy lore and into Warren's life. The two men develop a deep friendship as they find themselves weaseling out of many a tight spot together over the years.
Warren also finds himself in an emotional tight spot with a woman-an Identification Bureau employee named Marilyn. They eventually marry and start a family on Warren's small horse ranch in the country.
Dixon weaves much of the novel's fabric with yarn from his own experience as a deputy sheriff in the southwest, and the truth is evident in the telling. But he's not afraid to give Warren some rope, now and then, letting him chase his stories down eddies and through canyons in search of those gold nuggets that pay dividends long after the book is closed.