I will be honest with you. I really don't care for Westerns. Not in story form, and not in film form. For this reason, I was reluctant to review today's fiction title. Then I read the blurb on the back of the book, and I was intrigued. I am so glad that I was open-minded enough to start reading the book, because once I had started, I could not put it down.
The Case of the Deadly Desperados
For ages 8 to 11
Penguin, 2012, 978-0-399-25633-2
It is September 26, 1862, and P.K. Pinkerton comes home to find out that his foster father is dead, and his foster mother is dying. Lying on the floor and knowing that she will soon be in heaven, Ma Evangeline tells P.K. that the three men who attacked then are looking for the little medicine bag that P.K’s Indian mother gave him. P.K. manages to retrieve the bag and hide himself before the three killers return, and he hears them talking about him.
While he waits for the stagecoach to arrive, (P.K. knows that he needs to get far away as soon as possible) he reads a piece of paper that he finds in his medicine bag. Though he is not sure what it is exactly, he does appreciate that the paper is very valuable, and that anyone who owns it will be very rich indeed.
Some hours later P.K arrives in Virginia City. One of the bigger mining towns in Nevada Territory, Virginia City is a hotbed of vice. Here there are opium dens, houses of ill repute, and saloons. There are gamblers, “Soiled Doves,” criminals, and men who think nothing of shooting first and asking questions later.
P.K. isn’t in Virginia City long before he is robbed by a “Soiled Dove” of everything valuable that he owns (including the piece of paper.) He soon comes to understand that in Virginia City the rule is everyone for himself (or herself.) He cannot trust anyone to look out for his interests.
A newspaperman called Sam Clements who has recently arrived in the area takes pity on P.K. Sam does his best to help the boy, but the three desperados who are seeking him out are never far behind, and P.K. begins to despair that he will ever be able to escape their clutches.
In this very unusual and highly entertaining western, Caroline Lawrence combines fact and fiction to give readers a singular story and a colorful picture of what it was like to be in a mining town in the late 1800’s. Readers will soon get caught up in P.K’s extraordinary tale, and they will appreciate the strategies he adopts to survive, some of which are very odd indeed.