BILLY GASHADE by Loren D. Estleman


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In a delightful if remarkably unsentimental change of pace, Estleman (Stress, 1996, etc.) offers an engaging account of an innocent abroad in the Wild West. Looking back on a long and eventful life from Depression-era Hollywood, the octogenarian narrator recalls his lost youth. Obliged to flee New York City at age 16 after badly injuring a Tweed crony during the draft riots of 1863, he left behind his privileged status as the only son of a wealthy businessman. Adopting the name Billy Gashade, the well-bred tenderfoot finds refuge in a Kansas brothel where both the soiled doves and their clients fancy his piano-playing abilities. Captured in the course of a brutal attack by Quantrill's Raiders, Billy rides with the guerrillas and is befriended by Frank James. After Appomattox, the wandering minstrel (who learns to play the banjo and guitar on his educational travels) winds up in Fort Riley, Texas, where he encounters commanding officer George Armstrong Custer. By now a self-sufficient rover, the erstwhile aesthete, who's developed a taste for wine and women as well as for the songs he sings to get his supper, treks the frontier. Along his wayward way, the resolutely nonviolent Billy has brief encounters with the likes of William Bonney (a.k.a. Billy the Kid), Chief Crazy Horse, John Wesley Hardin, Wild Bill Hickok, and Oscar Wilde. Having loved and lost (to consumption) the fair young maid to whom he was paroled after running whiskey to Indians in the Oklahoma Territory, Billy returns to Manhattan nearly 20 years after bolting it, just in time to bid farewell to his dying father. Parlaying his musical talents into a low-profile career in Tin Pan Alley, he eventually heads West once again, this time with the infant film industry. A fine picaresque tale that brings to vivid, mock-heroic life many of American history's western icons.

Pub Date: April 16th, 1997
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Forge/Tor