OUTLAW by Warren Kiefer


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The all-American hero of this long (528 pp.) work goes from cattle-thief to Rough Rider to oilman to fat cat; Kiefer (best known for his 1973 mystery, The Lingala Code) has written a picaresque that starts out brisk and breezy but sags into an overstuffed chronicle of family and public life. Feisty, 90-year-old Lee Garland tells us his life story as he holds off the Feds, who are expropriating his New Mexico ranch. Born in that territory in 1880, the young Lee is orphaned by an Apache raid and raised by a poor Mexican farming family. By age 14, he is working for some cattle-thieves. When one of them is murdered, Lee is implicated and flees to Mexico; soon he is bringing cattle clandestinely over the border with the help of a Mexican bandit (Pancho Villa, who else?) and a gringo businessman, Charlie Bruce. Lee is a born leader--and moneymaker; at 20, he is already a rich man. Next up is the Spanish-American War. Lee volunteers as a Rough Rider, finding time en route to Cuba to fall in love with Bruce's beautiful sister Caroline. He saves Teddy Roosevelt's life on San Juan Hill, then almost dies of typhoid fever, but recuperates nicely in a Fifth Avenue mansion, courtesy of the filthy-rich Fortescue, a fellow Rough Rider, who will make Lee his partner in his Tampico, Mexico, oilfield (""All you have to do, Lee, is what you do best. Ride herd on the whole works""). Lee will go on to marry twice (the second time to Caroline), join Pershing's Punitive Expedition, become Harding's ambassador to Mexico. . .it's all in a day's work for old Lee. Kiefer's action scenes are lively, but they cannot carry the weight of the novel. The real problem is that he has no feel for character; Lee is little more than his cat's-paw, and he can't get mileage out of his turmoil-filled domestic life.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1989
Publisher: Donald Fine