Starving Review: South of Rising Sun by J. D. McCall


South of Rising Sun by J. D. McCall (Goodreads)

STARVING REVIEWER’S NOTE: Mr. McCall had the misfortune of his previous publisher imprint closing up shop.  However, he has already been picked up by another, so South should be available through Amazon and other outlets again shortly.  I will update the links when that happens.

If you’ve been hanging around the Starving Review kitchens, then you know by now that I love a good Western.  Of course, the emphasis needs to be on the ‘good’ part.  As a fan of the genre, I am obviously most sensitive to amateur chefs who burn the bottom, sour the filling, and generally botch up the recipe.  From first bite, South of Rising Sun seems to be as pure of a Western genre recipe as possible, but does it live up to standards or do we have another cake dropped on the kitchen floor?

Before we find out, let us review the code of the Starving Reviewer:

  1. I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre
  2. I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible

As I am horrible at keeping my mouth shut when I love something, South is a souffle that rose beyond my best expectations.  It fulfills all the tastes you would expect from a Western recipe, with saloons, gunfights, heroes, villains, the tastes of historical events, action mingled with contemplative moments in the saddle, everything.  But what makes it rise above the expected?  Well, the three key ingredients that are truly exemplary, in my opinion, are the rich, velvety characters, the well-laid out mystery at the heart of the plot, and the intelligent way Mr. McCall weaves in history and the issues of the times to the story.

South is filled with the warm, gooey filling of brilliantly realized characters.  Even minor characters spring from the page fully formed, often showing depths of motivation and feeling that aren’t immediately apparent.  The real treat this creates is a sense of history.  The relationships of characters who have been long acquainted feel that way from their first appearance, making me feel as if this particular meal was made from well-aged beef.  That sense of history and depth of relationship adds just another layer of flavor to the mix.

The other two ingredients I mentioned are as rich as they are straight forward.  The core mystery is simply well-laid out, paced throughout the book, with the clues provided openly to the reader as well.  When the whole plot is laid bare, if you hadn’t already divined it, you will realize that all the pieces were there for you to find.  That’s a hallmark of a properly laid-out mystery.

Finally, the chef never refuses to fold in well-researched history to his recipe.  More importantly than the events and places, Mr. McCall obviously strives to touch on the feelings and morals of the era in a more nuanced approach than many, especially in terms of the struggle with slavery and issues of race, things that haunt us even into the 21st century.  Though this could be folded into talk of the excellent characters. it is also steeped in the history and attitudes of the time.

In final summation, South of Rising Sun is a sumptuous meal of hardy Western historical vittles that satisfies on every front!  If you have any love of a good Western, make sure to get South as soon as it becomes available again.  If you just love a good mystery-drama, you should grab it too.  Really, the only people I would put off of this are children (the West was not a nice place!) and people that simply despise the genre.

FINAL VERDICT: ***** (A sumptuous meal of hardy Western vittles that satisfies on every front!)


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