Fuller (Sweetsmoke, 2008) rides into riotous Western outlaw history trailing the Sundance Kid as he searches for Etta Place, his wife.
In 1913, the legend exists: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were shot dead in Bolivia. If Butch molders in a grave, the Kid’s alive, walking out of Rawlins Penitentiary, where he’s served 12 years as Harry Alonzo. He wants only one thing—to find his wife, Etta, who wrote regularly until two years ago, when her letters stopped. Harry has just enough time to enjoy a whiskey before a shadow falls from the past—the revenge-minded son of a sheriff he once humiliated. Harry kills the guy in self-defense, but the gunfight means life on the run once again, pursued by a bungling posse and then by crafty ex-Pinkerton Charlie Siringo. In a powerfully nuanced love story, Harry is intent on finding Etta: "The special hold she had on him returned in a rush of thrill and melancholy, and his cheeks burned." The trail leads to a burgeoning New York City, where Etta, a settlement-house worker, has run afoul of the Black Hand, a group of Italian gangsters, and the clues to her whereabouts have become a "trail of crumbs that led to the edge of the abyss." The dialogue is marvelous, with an air of eavesdropping on real conversations, and the Kid strides the pages as you would have him: wily and wise, laconic and patient, hard-edged and deadly when pushed. Other characters are perfectly carved to fit the tale: Abby, a rooming-house manager, and her husband, Robert, subway sandhog; Hightower, wry and ruthless Black Hand enforcer; and Han Fei, a street urchin who becomes Harry’s guide to the city. Taking in the Titanic and the Triangle shirtwaist factory, opium dens and warmongering profiteers, the book leads to a denouement at the fabled 1913 Armory Show.
This is speculative historical fiction of extraordinary intelligence and descriptive power.