While No Lookin’ Back’s whimsical cover, with its Old West fonts and cartoon-looking cowboy, implies a lighthearted narrative, nothing could be further from the truth. The tale is rife with the horrors of war, murder, rape, violent revenge and “frontier justice,” and its Byronic hero is an army deserter.
In her Introduction, Linda Riddle, the author’s wife, attests she was awakened at 4 a.m. one Sunday as her husband, in an unfamiliar voice, stated, “I know how I died.” In that same eerie voice, Ted Riddle, as if channeling his protagonist, Tom Sullivan, began relating events from the Civil War until the early 20th century. Linda was swift to act as amanuensis — thus, their collaboration on No Lookin’ Back.
The story gets underway as Tom Sullivan, 16, and his brother John, 19, enlist in the Union Army. After the horrors of one major battle, Tom walks away, and for many years doesn’t know if his brother survived the war. Tom feels ceaseless guilt for deserting, and from his desertion on, he’s loyal to a fault to his family and associates. Those who are loyal to him prosper, while those who aren’t frequently end up dead. Tom, himself, rises from being the son of a poor farmer to a wealthy cattle baron, largely because of his loyalty to the right people.
Throughout the story, cattle rustlers, horse thieves, rapists, card cheats and all manner of brigands find themselves at the ends of ropes or at the wrong end of a rifle.
Whether Riddle was channeling an Oklahoma cattle rancher or not, the book feels largely authentic. Riddle especially shines in his descriptions of Tom’s battles with nature, particularly the freezing Oklahoma Panhandle winters. Unfortunately, his many secondary characters lack depth, and it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between them.
Still, No Lookin’ Back is a quick read that Western fans should enjoy as it paints an accurate picture of America on the brink of transitioning from frontier life to the modern age.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.