A young wanderer lands in the middle of New Mexico’s Lincoln County War in this middle volume of the oater Desert Legends Trilogy.
Relatively fresh from meeting Cochise in the previous episode (Written In Blood, 2010), 16-year-old James Doolen falls in with Bill Bonney (not yet known as “Billy the Kid”)—a charming but decidedly mercurial teenager who hares off on a vicious killing spree after their new boss, John Tunstall, is murdered by a rival merchant’s gang of hired gunmen. Along with having his narrator witness several documented gunfights, Wilson fills in the cast with historical figures and the general background with barely disguised infodumps. In his simply phrased, present-tense account, James goes from a brash “I want to learn about the world and have adventures” to a disgust with the escalating violence that, after several narrow squeaks, leads him on to a new job (and the next volume) scouting for a troop of buffalo soldiers. The tale’s women are, with a single late exception, silent bystanders, but action fans will thrill to the gunplay and other dangers. James’ conflicting feelings about his archetypically dangerous friend—and also a telling conversation with an old Mexican survivor of the Alamo about the difference between legend and reality—introduce thought provoking elements.
A tale of the Old West with a sturdy historical base and nary a dull moment. (Historical fiction. 11-14)