First-novelist Blake makes excellent use of historical fact and legend to chronicle the life of John Wesley Hardin (1853-95), the most infamous mankiller in Texas history. Although Hardin was too young to be a soldier in the Civil War, he grew up an unreconstructed Confederate. He killed his first man when he was 13; he later slew as many as 25 others (maybe even 40). Some were Union Occupation Troops, sent to Texas after the war; some were the detested state policemen who replaced them. But many of Hardin's victims were merely men who had insulted him, his family, or friends, or who sought to kill him to enhance their own reputations. Hardin claimed he never killed a man except in self- defense. Imprisoned at 25, pardoned at 40, he became a model citizen: a lawyer and a family man. Soon, though, he reverted to his old ways, drinking, gambling, whoring. Then, in August 1895, he was shot in the back by John Selman, a policeman, in the Acme Saloon in El Paso. Blake tells Hardin's story through the individual voices of 50 people who knew him: kinfolks, lawmen, bartenders, prostitutes, friends, and enemies. Some encounters are brief, some extended. But every monologue offers an opinion as to the true character of this legendary gunfighter. The result is an astonishing series of vignettes, each revealing a period of Hardin's life, each rendered honestly and in a unique, evocative voice. Blake's mastery of historical detail, vernacular, and idiom makes for an entertaining chronology, spiced with personal revelations and biases. Interspersed with legal documents, newspaper reports, and excerpts from Hardin's autobiography, this is more than fictional biography; it's also a fascinating and accurate revelation of the time, place, and people who settled a frontier.