Review: Dude or Die by Lynn Downey

Today, I'm delighted to share my review of Dude or Die by Lynn Downey

Set on a dude ranch (yes, I had to look it up), it's part mystery, part life on a dude ranch in the mid 1950s. If you're as curious as me about this thrilling adventure reminiscent of the Wild West, read on! It's well worth it...

Dude or Die is currently on blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club. Find other fascinating posts from the tour HERE!




Dude or Die

H Double Bar Dude Ranch Series

Lynn Downey

Dude or Die begins with an exciting event: a books signing by the main character, Phoebe Kelley, whose book based on a diary she found at her sister-in-law's dude ranch on a previous visit. But whilst she is thrilled about this minor success, she realises it doesn't pay any bills. 

When she receives an offer to work for a company as a copywriter, she gives it some serious thought – until Mary, her sister-in-law, implies her to join her at H Double Bar dude ranch in the new season in the autumn.

It's an easy decision for Phoebe to make, so in August, she lets out her flat to her friend, and heads east, crossing states all the way to Tribulation, Arizona.

There, she learns more about the threat a new ranch is posing to the existing dude ranches. Bigger, with more activities (and plenty of money thrown at it), Phoebe and Mary wonder who the real owner is, and what their plan is. Do they want to bankrupt all other dude ranches around town? It looks like it.

But the women have no proof, so Mary decides to put on a rodeo - dubbed a 'dudeo' – for their visitors. But when small 'accident's happen on the ranch – cut saddle belts and missing items – they suspect that someone wants to sabotage their business. 

Mary is also suspicious of a Nevada couple who'd rented one of her lodges for several months – an unusual deal, especially as the woman shows no interest in the ranch or its activities. But as several regulars have jumped ship, joining the new establishment, Mary has no choice. But something isn't quite right about the couple...

Will the dudeo succeed without incident? And will Phoebe and Mary discover more about the elusive owner of the new dude ranch? Well, read the book! 

Dude or Die has a wonderful cast: Phoebe, the no-nonsense writer who loves working on the ranch, but has very little riding experience; Mary and Sam, the H Double Bar ranch owners, fabulous, hard-working hosts to their guests; Virgil, the husband of the lady whose diary Phoebe uncovered, and whose story she told in her book...

For me, it's these characters who drive this story. The pace itself is slow, gentle, with the odd incident thrown in. It's not a fast-paced mystery. Instead, the focus of the narrative is on the daily work on the ranch, the rides, picnics, trips to town, looking after the guests' welfare, and the dudeo itself! And I found this utterly fascinating.

Yes, there are regular hints that not all is well, that the new ranch hides something big, and that the Nevada couple may have sinister intentions. But the way Ms Downey shows us around the ranch, with its people and animals, is revealing a world I didn't know existed. If I say it's a form of Butlins for American city slickers ('dudes'), then we'd get close. But it's far more adventurous and thrilling.

At times, I thought a little more in terms of dialogue could have revealed more about the characters, their actions, their opinions. There was a certain amount of 'telling', which brushed over certain things, and instead, a touch of 'showing' could have given us readers more insights.
But ultimately, the plot centres around the ranch, and that's where Ms Downey's incredible knowledge about the scene comes to the fore. Her research is impeccable, and she describes the world of dude ranches in great, fascinating detail. She makes it sound fun, exciting, and entertaining. And, I guess, that's what it's all about – giving the guests the best experience ever.

Dude or Die is a gentle read that takes you on a real Western adventure. Breathe in the country air, learn to live alongside the beautiful horses, and enjoy a fun ride!

It's the perfect novel for readers who love a combination of sleuthing alongside an intriguing plot in beautiful surroundings. Check it out!


It’s 1954, and San Francisco writer Phoebe Kelley is enjoying the success of her first novel, Lady in the Desert. When Phoebe’s sister-in-law asks her to return to Tribulation, Arizona to help run the H Double Bar Dude Ranch, she doesn’t hesitate. 

There’s competition from a new dude ranch this year, so the H Double Bar puts on a rodeo featuring a trick rider with a mysterious past.

When accidents begin to happen around the ranch, Phoebe jumps in to figure out why, and confronts an unexpected foe. And a man from her own past forces her to confront feelings long buried.

Dude or Die is the second book in the award-winning H Double Bar Dude Ranch series.

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This title is available to read on #KindleUnlimited.


About the Author:
Lynn Downey

Lynn Downey is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, historian of the West, and native Californian.

She was the Historian for Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco for 25 years. Her adventures as ambassador for company history took her around the world, where she spoke to television audiences, magazine editors, and university students, appeared in numerous documentaries, and on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She wrote many books and articles about the history of the company and the jeans, and her biography, Levi Strauss: The Man Who Gave Blue Jeans to the World, won the Foreword Reviews silver INDIE award.

Lynn got interested in dude ranches during her time at Levi’s. Her debut historical novel, Dudes Rush In, is set on an Arizona dude ranch in the 1950s; Arizona because she’s a desert rat at heart, and the 1950s because the clothes were fabulous.

Dudes Rush In won a Will Rogers Medallion Award, and placed first in Arizona Historical Fiction at the New Mexico-Arizona book awards. The next book in this series, Dude or Die, was released in 2023. And just for fun, Lynn wrote a screenplay based on Dudes Rush In, which is currently making the rounds of reviewers and competitions.

She pens short stories, as well. “The Wind and the Widow” took Honorable Mention in the History Through Fiction story contest, and “Incident at the Circle H” was a Finalist for the Longhorn Prize from Saddlebag Dispatches. The story “Goldie Hawn at the Good Karma Café” won second place in The LAURA Short Fiction contest from Women Writing the West, and is based on her experiences in a San Francisco religious cult in the 1970s. (That will be another book one of these days.)

Lynn’s latest nonfiction book is American Dude Ranch: A Touch of the Cowboy and the Thrill of the West, a cultural history of the dude ranch. It was reviewed in The Wall Street Journal, True West, Cowgirl, and The Denver Post, and was a Finalist for the Next Generation INDIE Award in Nonfiction. Kirkus Reviews said the book is “…deeply engaging and balances accessible writing style with solid research.”

When she’s not writing, Lynn works as a consulting archivist and historian for museums, libraries, cultural institutions, and businesses. She is the past president of Women Writing the West, a member of the Western Writers of America, and is on numerous boards devoted to archives and historic preservation. 

Lynn lives in Sonoma, California, where she sometimes makes wine from the Pinot Noir grapes in her back yard vineyard.

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