Fackler (Road from Betrayal, 1994, etc.) offers an ambitious portrait of the West's most famous outlaw while sorting out complexities of the bloody Lincoln County War of the late 1870s. A survey of Western buffs would probably reveal that the thing desired least is another novel about Billy the Kid, even though the Kid's life and the Lincoln County War remain elusive subjects, marked by many unknown facts. Fackler bravely takes up the story with the arrival in Lincoln of Alexander McSween, frontier lawyer and honest man. Tensions immediately escalate between him and the established strongman, Jimmy Dolan. In a parallel plot, Fackler presents Henry Antrim, aka Billy the Kid: El Chavito, as an orphaned delinquent with more charm than common sense. She traces his rise to leadership of McSween's Regulators, who would, with Jim Chisum's blessing, oppose Dolan's hired guns. For most writers, the story requires too much speculation to make for satisfactory fiction or even clear history. Fackler, though, relies on actual letters, court records, and eyewitness accounts while filling in the ``holes'' of the unknown with plausible fiction and realistic dialogue, not to mention excellently rich detail of place and period. Of particular interest is her depiction of John Tunstall, noble Englishman and loyal friend of the Kid's, whose vicious murder by Dolan provides the catalyst for the broader conflict. Under Fackler's hand, the ensuing events emerge as compelling tragedy laced with irony and fueled by friendship, loyalty, and love. Most memorable, though, is Billy himself: a likable scoundrel, but a scoundrel nonetheless, an amiable killer, but a killer even so. His crooked smile and deadly gun are complemented by an affability that makes him popular even among his enemies. Pat Garrett, good friend and also infamous killer of the Kid, is possibly given short shrift, but Billy and the time he lived in come off the page and capture the imagination.