The story takes the reader back to San Francisco in 1952, where an aspiring war widow Phoebe McFarland decides it's time to make some changes in her life. With a bold move, she quits her job, bids her friends farewell, and heads south to spend the next six months on her in-laws' dude ranch in Tribulation, Arizona. Phoebe has fond memories of having spent many vacations there. She's happy to have the opportunity to spend time with her husband's sister. In exchange for room and board, Phoebe has volunteered to help out in the ranch's office organizing all the paperwork. She has high hopes with extra free time to finally finish the novel that has been in the works for some time. Soon after her arrival, Phoebe's novel writing is derailed with the discovery of an old diary hidden in a desk. Phoebe's life collides with a young woman, Ellender Shepherd, owner of the diary from decades earlier. She is swept into Ellender's story that captures her early married life and the early growth of Tribulation, a once-thriving mining town.
As Phoebe stumbles onto secrets from Tribulation's past, unexpected discoveries led to a few shocking revelations. She sets herself on a dangerous course while trying to solve a few mysteries. Betrayal, greed, redemption, and love make Phoebe and Ellender's stories intriguing, heartwarming, and a touching read with an unexpected ending. With two stories running simultaneously throughout the novel, I also found myself swept into Ellender's story as secrets and clues began to unravel. Phoebe's story is told in the third person and Ellender's in the first person. Certainly, a clever way to format a story keeping the reader engrossed. You may be asking yourself how would Phoebe's story be different if she hadn't found Ellender's diary?
Downey's meticulous research enhances the story with authentic details. Her vivid descriptions of desert landscape, exterior, and interior of the dude ranch, type of hospitality offered guests, the dynamics of social hours and dinners, visits into Tribulation and surrounding area effectively capture the ambiance of visiting an Arizona dude ranch back in the early '50s.
With guest comfort always a top priority you might want to consider extending your stay. You certainly don't want to miss Phoebe's continued adventures in Tribulation at the H Double Bar Dude Ranch, a forthcoming book two of the series. I suspect there will be another mystery to solve.
Don't forget to check out the intriguing and well-thought-out book discussion questions at the end of the book.
Lynn Downey is a western historian, novelist, and native Californian. She is the former company historian for Levi Strauss & Co. and wrote the first biography of the founder, Levi Strauss: The Man Who Gave Blue Jeans to the World, which won the silver INDIE award for biography from Foreword Reviews. Her 2019 book Arequipa Sanatorium: Life in California’s Lung Resort for Women won the WILLA Award from Women Writing the West. When she’s not writing she works as a consulting archivist and historian for museums, libraries, and businesses.Her next book, "American Dude Ranch: A Touch of the Cowboy and the Thrill of the West" will be published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 2022.