If the Coen brothers’ film version of True Grit gave readers an appetite for more underage period Western bounty hunting, Lansdale (Edge of Dark Water, 2012, etc.) is eager to oblige.
“[O]ne thing for sure, this ain’t your day,” the retiring deputy of Sylvester, Texas, tells Jack Parker. He doesn’t know the half of it. After Jack’s parents are carried off by smallpox, his grandfather packs Jack, 16, and his sister, Lula, 14, onto a wagon and heads for their Aunt Tessle’s in Kansas. The wagon makes it only halfway across the Sabine River on a suspiciously expensive new ferry when three men spoiling for a fight shoot Caleb Parker and the ferryman, leave Jack in the river and ride off with Lula. Jack’s obligation to rescue his sister is clear, but the means aren’t, until he runs into tracker Eustace Cox—part black, part Comanche, and maybe a hint of Parker mixed up in him—and his buddy Reginald Jones, a philosophical dwarf everyone calls Shorty. Offering to swap the deeds for his family’s land for some timely assistance in dealing with "Cut Throat Bill," "Nigger Pete" and "Fatty Worth," Jack interests the unlikely pair in his quest. Soon enough, they’re joined by Jimmie Sue, a whore with a heart of flesh; Winton, ex-rancher, ex–bounty hunter and ex-sheriff; Spot, his assistant back in the Sylvester jail; and Hog, Eustace’s hog. The many shaggy conversations, anecdotes and back stories that emerge among the group gradually reveal to Jack what he’s going to have to do to rescue Lula, what sort of allies he’s enlisted for the job and what sort of person he is himself.
Alternately violent and tender, with a gently legendary quality that makes this tall tale just about perfect.