True Lyric Grit

My friend, Baron R. Birtcher, is one of the finest authors you’ll ever meet and read. His Sheriff Ty Dawson mysteries are absolute jewels, lyric and literary but chock full of gritty violence and mayhem. His latest, RECKONING, will be released June 20 but is already available on Amazon for pre-order at:

Here’s my review:

“There’s a marvelous dichotomy to author Baron R. Birtcher’s mysteries, particularly those that feature Meriwether County Sheriff Ty Dawson, war veteran, rancher, reluctant lawman and keeper of the old school flame in the face of the chaos, culture clash and decline of America in the mid-1970s.

On the one hand, the writing is high-born, lyric and literary but clear as the mountain streams of rural Oregon, where Dawson hangs his hat and gun. Some of the finest passages in Birtcher’s latest, Reckoning, are achingly beautiful and set a very strong sense of time and place that far too many writers fail to do.

On the other, there’s murder, mayhem, corruption and dirty deeds in this book that give it grit and a very hard edge sharpened by Birtcher’s deft hand. Think Hemingway slumming by ghost-writing a Mickey Spillane novel.

Birtcher’s style also elevates Dawson’s mournful and angry observations on the chaos, corruption and brute force of federal land and law agencies. Studded throughout the book, these give rich context to that time in American history — post-Vietnam but pre-Waco, Ruby Ridge and Sagebrush Rebellion — without a shred of nostalgic shading. They also flesh out who Ty Dawson is — a thoughtful, uncompromising and fearless man of the soil who doesn’t hesitate to use his fists and his gun to confront the bad guys.

The action starts with Dawson answering a call from rancher KC Sheridan, a man in his 70s, angered by the actions of U.S. Fish & Wildlife employees building a fence on his land that will cut his cattle off from access to a lake in a wildlife refuge fed by a stream that originates on his property — a violation of Western riparian rights. Dawson orders the feds off Sheridan’s land and tells him to call a state judge in Salem to get an injunction against further action to build that fence.

Matters escalate quickly when federal agents, invited in by the sheriff of the county where Sheridan lives, raid the rancher’s home at three a.m. and haul him off to the federal lockup in Portland for interfering with federal agency employees and destroying property.

But before that happens, Dawson and one of his deputies, Jordan Powell, are called to investigate a dead body found at a fishing resort in his county. Turns out the dead man is a Portland police detective.

While Dawson is checking out the crime scene, the dead detective’s partner, a flashy vice squad dresser nicknamed Hollywood Dan, shows up uninvited and starts trying to convince him that his partner committed suicide. He’s been sent to birddog the investigation by bosses in the notoriously corrupt department. When Dawson returns to his office, he fields a call from the department’s deputy chief, who politely pressures Dawson to rule the death a suicide despite a bullet wound to the victim’s forehead. Dawson refuses and tells the deputy chief to order Hollywood Dan back to Portland.

Dawson quickly becomes a pinball with a badge, bouncing between trips to Portland to unravel background on the dead detective and his ties to a rich, shady lawyer who owns the fishing resort and the actions of Sheridan’s brother-in-law, a Nye County, Nevada rancher who faced down the feds when Bureau of Land Management officials canceled his grazing lease on land his family has run cattle on since before the Civil War, fronting an armed and angry band of ranchers who prevented the feds from seizing his cattle.

The brother-in-law aims to create the same standoff to support Sheridan by occupying buildings at the wildlife refuge, an act that draws loads of press coverage and an overwhelming force of highly militarized FBI agents. All that stands between the standoff and a bloody shootout is Dawson, who agrees to act as a mediator.

The sheriff refuses to back down on his murder investigation and his determined quest to prevent bloodshed in his county. He also starts unearthing a link between the shady lawyer and the revived charges against Sheridan that could result in him losing his ranch.

It’s great fun to watch Dawson as he follows his own code, putting a savage beat-down on Hollywood Dan when he discovers the man stalking him and meting out some frontier justice on the shady lawyer. But it’s also harrowing and sorrowful to see him fail at preventing bloodshed that breaks his heart.

As the book rocks toward its climactic conclusion, the question is: Will Ty Dawson prevail over the powerful and corrupt bad men arrayed against him? Read Birtcher’s book to find out.”

— Jim Nesbitt is the award-winning author of four hard-boiled Texas crime thrillers featuring Dallas PI Ed Earl Burch. His latest is THE DEAD CERTAIN DOUBT, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon at

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