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Here, McNab (Flanagan's Run, 1982) offers an episodic, richly engaging novel about a trio of supremely gifted runner athletes and their Western con games during the 1870's. Leader of the trio is the Honorable Professor Douglas Moriarty, who discovered his abilities as a runner while still a child in Scotland and pacing himself against his very able father. He finally began beating his father, but not before they had sailed to America on father's winnings as a runner. Aboard ship, father falls in with a Shakespearean actor, then finds himself hired as an actor in New York. Young Douglas himself begs to be Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, is taught his art by Junius Brutus Booth, and as an adult tours with Edwin and John Wilkes Booth, He's also entering races, winning big prizes, and becoming extremely shrewd about betting practices. Out West, Douglas starts up his own troupe and begins managing two magnificent runners, Billy Joe Speed and Buck Miller. Hired also as actors, Billy Joe and Buck can rattle off great patches of Shakespeare, but only slowly do they come to understand the great characters they play. Douglas then devises a betting ploy in which Billy Joe is sent on ahead to a new town, becomes an obvious drunk, and then is matched at great odds against that town's leading ""fast man."" First, Douglas has Buck Miller beat the local hero, then he announces that he has an ""English Method"" of training runners by which he can take even a drunken slob like Billy Joe and have him beat Buck Miller. Eventually, Billy Joe is bet against a fast horse at 50 yards, then against P.T. Barnum's glorious high-jumper, the white mare Salamander. Will Billy Joe beat Salamander at the six-foot hurdle? Meanwhile, as temporary gold prospectors, the three silver-tongued actors (at least on stage) are saving up to open their own Theatre of the West in San Francisco. The various con ruses are ingeniously plotted--while the reader's heart is lost quite early to these bursting thespian athletes. Wonderful period detail at every turn.

Pub Date: Feb. 3rd, 1987
Publisher: Simon & Schuster