The Novelist

Theo Czuk’s first novel, HEART-SCARRED has won the 2014 LARAMIE Book Award for Best Literary Western. Theo is presently working on his second novel, THE BLACK BOTTOM: The Measure Of A Man.



Consciousness ebbed and flowed as Rory Casso chipped at the ice with his Bowie. Three inches of winter ice lay between Rory and water. And food. And life. If he could not traverse these mere inches of frozen liquid, life would be short. But an even uglier deliberation than death bedeviled Casso’s thoughts for even as he grappled with the ice, Rory recounted the contingents of outlaws and Indians, face thick with the paint of war, that were stalking his beloved Bronwyn as she negotiated the wilds of these western reaches. Bloodied, battered and bruised, Rory Casso continued chip-chipping at the ice with the Bowie knife until the demands of the concussion’s cataleptic grip squeezed consciousness from his flayed body.

REVIEW: Jill Beauchamp, HORIZON BOOKS “I don’t tend to read westerns, but this one has great characters, psychological insights, a romance, and, of course, action packed adventure that makes Heart-Scarred appealing to readers of all kinds.

The protagonist, Rory Casso, is lonely and searching both within and without for a feeling of home. Bronwyn Mason is a strong and strong-hearted young woman who knew Rory when they were children. Juke Bauque, Rory’s partner in payroll deliveries to the wild west, is half African American and half Native American, with the soul of a poet.

When these three join up against the notorious Thompson gang, there are sparks of all kinds flying!

As Rory battles the onset of winter, the Thompson gang and his internal demons, the reader is taken on a ride of pure storytelling excitement.”


Dave rated it really liked it

Shelves: western-fiction

This is likely the most literate western I’ve ever read. In some ways, it reminds me of Charles Portis’ “True Grit,’ which featured a formal style and vocabulary that at first struck me as a little odd but quickly grew on me. The classics are all here – the honorable lawman, an orphan raised by Indians to give him a greater appreciation of and skills in nature, a fiery and independent woman who also happens to be a school teacher, a vile gang of outlaws. But they’re presented in such a way that they don’t feel stale at all. Through flashbacks, we learn each character’s story as we work toward a resolution of the current crisis that involves foul weather, treacherous terrain, attacking Indians and the aforementioned gang of villains. The underlying theme in the back stories is “home,” and what it means to each of these people. 


A must read even if you’re not a fan of Western literature

By Richard Askinson November 5, 2016

Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase

What a wonderful read. No wonder it won the 2014 Laramie Award for Literary Western. The characters are compelling and the story evokes every human emotion. The writing is sharp and clear. A+

Chanticleer Book Reviews: 

Author Theo Czuk provides a refreshing wave of storytelling in his award-winning literary Western debut novel, Heart-Scarred.

Rory Casso works as a shotgun freighter with the Pinkerton Detective Agency alongside his partner, Juke Bauque, running capital (i.e., money, furs, gold) up and down the Platte for the Reynolds Savings and Loan payroll. Because bandits lay traps along the way, the partners travel separately. Rory, who lived among the Hunkpapa Indian tribe when he was a boy, uses his skill of trail scouting to keep away from the gang. Juke may be part Native American, but he isn’t familiar with indigenous skills since he was “privately tutored and socially cultured.”

Enter Bronwyn Mason, a childhood friend of Rory’s who plans to open the first one-room school house in Rawlings. Although she hasn’t seen Rory in years, Bronwyn is relieved to meet Rory’s partner, Juke so that she can hire him to be one of her drivers to transport three wagon loads of school material. Bronwyn’s joy about establishing a school house quickly turns to sorrow when she hears that the Thompson gang murdered her father, the esteemed Marshal Isham Mason. Even though she is grief-stricken, she is determined to fulfill her mission. Bronwyn’s traveling band faces various calamities en route, especially when they get held up by Indian warriors. What she doesn’t expect is that the person who comes to the rescue is none other than Rory. Romance blooms between the childhood friends and all appears to go well until the Thompson gang catches up with them.

Western enthusiasts in search of a refreshing take on their favorite genre have much to look forward to in Czuk’s award-winning novel. Czuk adds verisimilitude to his story by incorporating a host of realistic characters. Veering away from stereotypes, Czuk presents protagonists that mimic the educational and societal waves taking place during the mid to late 1800s.

Czuk creates three different people from three different educational backgrounds. Rory is a white man whose comes from a dysfunctional home but finds stability living among Native Americans. Juke, who is half black and half Native American, is brought up in the cultural surroundings of Boston—the antithesis of what would traditionally come out of western tribes. Bronwyn—who learned everything she needed to know about life through her father—in many respects reflects an “Annie Oakley” figure, but much more feminine.

There is more to the Old West than being chock-full of rough and tough characters. Much of the gruff personas came from merely surviving day to day. Czuk aptly weaves in plenty of historical information that shines a light on the differences of what life was like between the eastern and western territories. While pointing out Native American history (including connections with Ireland during the Great Potato Famine), Czuk gives attention to education, or the lack thereof, especially in the West, and thus Bronwyn’s desire to develop a one-room schoolhouse.

Czuk offers a well-balanced mix of storytelling, history, engaging dialogue, and thought-provoking themes that go beyond the good, bad and the ugly in his novel, “Heart-Scarred.”

By A Lock