An inexperienced, formerly wealthy Virginian becomes one of the deadliest guns in the West in this debut novel.
As the story begins, Tucker Lightfoot Clairborne is abroad in France as his Confederate brother and father fight in the American Civil War. Following their deaths, he returns home to find that his family’s side has lost and occupies a much lower social station than before—their slaves freed, their properties less valuable. With only a few contacts, Tucker heads West and soon encounters an all-black unit of the U.S. military, which changes his perspectives on race and privilege. He befriends Sgt. Titus Herman, a recently discharged black soldier who teaches Tucker how to survive in the West. Eventually, Tucker heads through Texas on a cattle drive and finds himself appointed a constable in rough-and-tumble Abilene, where he makes a name for himself as a deadly “shootist.” The novel features sections of third-person narration along with lengthy epistolary passages, including Tucker’s journal entries and letters to his mother. Harrison plays with the difference between what’s happening and what Tucker is willing to admit—including the fact that he’s become a killer. The author develops Tucker’s sense of self particularly well, revisiting it at pivotal moments throughout the novel, as in one of Tucker’s letters: “I believe each time I took a life, there was no alternative, certainly not ‘turning the other cheek.’ I am not proud of this.” Although the lengthy novel could have done with some trimming, Harrison has an admirable sense of pacing and effectively describes the gunfights that punctuate the story. Readers hoping to luxuriate in period detail will find a lot to enjoy here, but although the author clearly has a grasp of the period, the story always comes first.
A slightly overlong Western, told in a confident, lively voice, that’s likely to please fans of the genre.