Book Reviews Historical Western

Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt

Book Summary

Wrongfully accused of murder, Dr. Catherine Bennett is destined to hang… unless she can disappear.

With the untamed territory of Colorado as her most likely refuge, she packs her physician’s kit and heads West. But even with a new life and name, a female doctor with a bounty on her head can only hide for so long.

SAWBONES is raw, gritty and, at times, violently graphic. The characters themselves could have been ripped out of a Dime novel of the day back in the late 1800s—with a woman on the run after being accused of murder she didn’t commit, Indians on the warpath, and a saddle-weary Army Captain with a dire secret of his. Each adds their own story to the narrative as seen through the eyes of Lenhardt’s heroine, Catherine Bennett. A woman with the audacity to think she could be a doctor in a man’s world.

Escaping from the stifling confines of NYC after being wrongly accused of murder, Bennet flees to the Texas frontier with help form a childhood friend, James, and her Irish maid, Maureen. But the West is filled with more than its own fair share of dangers, from drunken cowpokes, to bounty hunters, and those trying to make a fast buck any where they can. Each character more despicable than the last.

Heading toward a frontier town, the wagon train Maureen and Catherine—now calling herself Laura Elliston—are travelling on is attacked by marauding Indians. Everyone, except Laura, is brutally murdered. Chased off by an Army patrol, Laura is rescued by Captain William Kindle and his men. However, in the fight, Kindle is severely injured. But thanks to Laura’s skill as a surgeon, she’s able to save Kindle’s life. And thus, as the two are thrown together by chance and circumstances, a romance ignites.   

While Sawbones is, at times, a page-turner with lots of gung-ho action, Lenhardt does try to tempers her unflinching portrayal of the West—and the prevailing attitudes of the times—with some thoughtful moments between the various characters. But even out in the wild west love can be a burden when trying to hide in plain sight. As passions run high between Kindle and Elliston, betrayal may have the last word in any hope of happiness for the couple. A spectre from Kindle’s past rides into town and demands the ultimate sacrifice of them. The result is an ending that goes completely over the top. 

This is no rosy, glossy love-story, but a visceral look at how life in the wild west might have looked. With characters whose lives are torn apart by circumstances, in a brutal world vividly brought to life by Lenhardt’s style of storytelling. Sadly, for me, what was lost in all this gore and extreme violence, is any sense of decency or morality.

If you like your westerns with a touch of violence, and a heavy dose of romance, then maybe you’ll enjoy taking a ride out west with Lenhardt’s Sawbones.

SAWBONES
Melissa Lenhardt
Redhook, 2017
Paperback, 421 pages
Western | Romance

2 comments on “Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt

  1. Avatar

    Love the review. I haven’t heard of Sawbones before so I’m glad you have blogged about it. I’m in need of a good western.

  2. Alex

    The series is a couple of years old now, but, I think, still going strong. I never bothered with subsequent books mostly due to the characters and the kind of violence depicted, just not my kind of read. If you want a good western, try Joe R. Lansdale’s THE THICKET, that was excellent!

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