The Case of the Deadly Desperados by Caroline Lawrence
When desperados kill a preacher and his wife in a small frontier town, their foster child P.K. is forced to go on the run. P.K. must get a valuable letter to the Recorder’s Office before anyone else can get their hands on it. It’s not easy: Virginia City in 1862 is a glorified mining camp on a barren mountain above a great vein of silver. Seething with miners below ground and hustlers above, it’s a dangerous place, full of gamblers, hurdy girls, saloon-keepers and gunmen, all of them on the make.
When twelve year-old P.K. Pinkerton arrives there, homeless, penniless and hunted, things don’t look good. But armed with a Smith & Wesson seven-shooter and a knack for disguises, P.K. takes on the tricksters and desperados who are out to get him and he finds possible allies: Sam Clemens, the new reporter for the paper, a gambler called ‘Poker Face Jace’ who knows how to tell if someone is bluffing, a derringer-packing Soiled Dove, and a Chinese photographer’s apprentice called Ping.
Caroline Lawrence is most well-known for her very popular series The Roman Mysteries. Lawrence has now swapped Ancient Rome for the Wild West in her new novel The Case of the Deadly Desperados, the first in her new series The Western Mysteries, published on 2nd June 2011 by Orion. This is actually the first title I’ve read byLawrence but I can tell you now it certainly won’t be my last!
I won’t go into too much detail over the plot as if you’ve read the blurb above, you already know it. What I love about this novel is the way that this is exactly how I would imagine the Wild West to be, and Lawrence manages to make you feel like you are right there in the middle of it all, with your hoop skirt on and your pistol never far from your hand! It is clear that Lawrencehas dedicated a lot of time to careful research when writing this novel and it has definitely paid off. There are so many little details, from the misspellings in the language to reflect the time period, to the real-life characters included in the story, that help shape this novel into a great piece of story-telling. One of my favourite characters has to be Sam Clemens (the real name Huckleberry Fin author Mark Twain). We see Sam living inVirginia City working as a reporter, exactly as he did in real life. It’s fascinating to get this tiny window into what his life must have been like back then, before he became one of the most famous American authors in history.
Of course the best character of all has to be P. K. Pinkerton, the young half-Indian boy whose foster parents have been murdered by a bunch of desperados. What is most interesting about P.K. is the very subtle hints of him having autism. He doesn’t like to be touched by other people, and he has a lot of trouble deciphering when people are being genuine in their facial expressions or not, and in understanding their emotions. It is never said outright that this is what P.K. has, but of course back in those days they probably didn’t know this illness existed! There are also other questions which must be asked regarding P.K. later on in the novel, which I have to admit I simply didn’t see coming at all, but I will not spoil it for you! I think it’s important to start the novel without knowing certain potential ‘spoilers’.
Poker Face Jace has to be my next favourite character, and not just because I love his name (which I really do!). He is such a brilliant character. As with most people P.K. meets inVirginia City, we must be suspicious of him. When P.K. first encounters him, Poker Face Jace definitely seems like on of the bad guys, set on bringing harm to P.K. But eventually Jace shows his softer side and helps P.K. distinguish between when a person is lying and when they’re not. This proves to be more invaluable to P.K. than he ever thought possible, and in the end I looked upon Jace as an almost father figure for P.K.
Many things get in the way of P.K. and his mission to get his letter (the deeds to some land with a silver mine) to the recording office, so he can have enough money to find his uncle, who runs a detective agency.Virginia Cityin 1862 is a very tough place to live. Everyone is looking out only for themselves – even those we think may be nice at first, those who P.K. chooses to trust. It is a harsh lesson for P.K. to learn that he must grow up fast if he chooses to stay inVirginia City. Not everyone is as kind as they seem, and there’s certainly a shortage of the Christian morals P.K. has been brought up with.
This is authentic Western storytelling at its very best. Caroline Lawrence has created a wonderful piece of storytelling here, and I hope every teenage out there jumps on the bandwagon and gives it a go! I honestly can’t fault it and I’m already very excited for book two in the series. I can see many further developments happening already – with regards to P.K.’s family, his friends such as Poker Face Jace, and I’m crossing my fingers for some good old fashioned cowboy and Indian action!
- Family Book Club: The Case of the Deadly Desperados (telegraph.co.uk)
- Caroline Lawrence’s top 10 Westerns (guardian.co.uk)