“The Face of His Brother”

by Mark St. J. Couhig. Arthur Hardy Publishing,

242 pages, $29.95.

I suppose you could call “The Face of His Brother” by St. Francisville writer Mark St. J. Couhig a Western. All the elements are there — a broad, brilliant New Mexico landscape; a flawed lawman seeking redemption; and, of course, justice hand-delivered on the open range. Even John Wayne shows up.

Couhig, however, is a good, insightful writer whose first novel is no ordinary Wild West shoot-’em-up. Set in 1967, the hero is not a quiet Gary Cooper facing a showdown at the OK Corral. Rather he is Ricky Garcia, a dissolute Hispanic whose only ambition for his 22nd birthday is to get drunk with lazy friends. Unfortunately, as headlines report every day, a split-second of rage ends the life of a good family man, and Garcia is holding the gun, appalled such evil existed within him.

But it’s too late. In many ways, Garcia is a sympathetic figure, a simpleton dazed by adulthood and bewildered by life. He’s just criminally stupid in the same way that makes most of us shake our heads at the news, lamenting how Terminator Hollywood has made a cottage industry out of revenge as the solution to righteous indignation. And we wonder why there’s so much anger?

But Garcia only thought he was sorry.

The dead man’s brothers, Mark and Luke Brandon, of Clinton, Louisiana, are soon in hot pursuit, driven by growling vengeance across Texas. Many will recognize the type, a marvelously entertaining and happily degenerate bunch who thinks “Dukes of Hazard” was real. They love to tear up large, loud trucks, are sadly dutiful to a vengeful dad and are proud to have never read a book or newspaper.

Thus, the Brandon brothers aren’t any smarter than Garcia, but they feel righteously motivated and are infinitely more cruel.

When the brothers catch up, Garcia is caught like a mouse between two cats. His only hope lies in the intervention of a disgraced Clinton cop who pursues the Brandons on his own in hopes of heading them off at the pass.

He wants to prevent another senseless killing for which taxpayers will pay to prosecute and incarcerate another two ignoramuses.

There are funny bits about New Mexico’s cultural idiosyncrasies, where Couhig lived 15 years before a 36-year career as journalist-publisher of the St. Francisville Democrat.

“New Mexico is different and just as weird,” says Couhig. He knows about misbegotten country bumpkins who confuse honor with a perverse sense of family loyalty. It’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt.

“The Face of His Brother” is a great first novel and will make you glad to be safely at home.