Peter Brandvold’s 2002 novel, “Once a Renegade,” is quite a morality tale, under the umbrella of an old-fashioned Western. Shambeau is a Métis Indian who lives alone, as much as he can, and avoids people whenever possible. He is looked down on as a “dirty half breed” and lives his life by a code that is quickly becoming at odds with the “new West.” Sheriff Ben Stillman grew up in the same time and the same ways as Shambeau, so he understands when Shambeau kills two men and scalps a third, perhaps in retaliation for the men having needlessly killed his mule, or perhaps because he simply snapped after a lifetime of abuse.
But understanding isn’t enough to stop Stillman from doing his job, so he begins the hunt for Shambeau, even though a part of him hopes he gets away. His job is made even more complex when the men of the Bar Seven, wanting to defend their brand and avenge their friend’s death, ignore Stillman’s orders and head out on their own after Shambeau. It’s not long before the tables are turned and Shambeau is the one doing the hunting. We watch this all unfold with Shakespearian complexity and through Sheriff Ben Stillman’s eyes.
Peter Brandvold (North Dakota born) has written close to 100 Western novels, under his own name as well as pen names O.A. Brand and Frank Leslie. His series include the “Yakima Henry” and “Lou Prophet” novels, as well as the “.45-Caliber” books featuring Cuno Massey and the “Sheriff Ben Stillman” series, which includes “Once a Renegade.”
Brandvold has also ventured into young-adult Westerns, including “Lonnie Gentry” and “The Curse of Skull Canyon.” One can only hope that if writers like Brandvold begin to write Westerns for younger readers, some will be hooked for life. He has also written two books in the “horror Western” category: “Canyon of a Thousand Eyes” and “Dust of the Damned.” Brandvold is the self-titled “head honcho” at Mean Pete Publishing, known for lightning-fast Western e-books.
It was fun reading “Once A Renegade” and not just because it’s such a good book. While not yet what one would consider friends, Pete Brandvold and I have become friendly in the way one does through social media and without having sat down and spent any time together. This allowed me to send him notes while I read the book, asking questions and making comments. It added a new and different layer to enjoying a good book, a greater depth of understanding.
When I was about three quarters of the way through the book, I sent Pete a note letting him know that between Sheriff Stillman and Shambeau, I did not yet know who I was rooting for, and even more surprising, given the predictability of many Westerns, I did not know how the book was going to end. His response?
“I didn’t know who to root for when I was writing it.”
Pete (with help from some of his friends) makes his own beer and wine. As he puts it, “No sissy kid stuff. My two beer bros and I grind our grain in my garage, sweating and cussing.” His favorite of his own beers? Mean Pete’s Black-Hearted Stouts. He also makes a dandelion wine, with a back story for another time, named Crazy Wine.