The Case of the Deadly Desperados, by Caroline Lawrence
Themes: mystery; adventure; USA; historical.
Synopsis: This is the first book in what promises to be a brilliant new series from Caroline Lawrence, author of the Roman Mystery series. For her new venture, The Western Mysteries, Lawrence travels back in time and space to Virginia City, 1862 – the wild, lawless land of pistols, spurs and desperados.
The hero of this tale is 12-year-old P.K. Pinkerton. In fact, this story is his story, told in his own words. P.K. is a unique and unlikely hero and whilst he is the narrator, there is a great deal of ambiguity about him.
In the opening chapter, P.K. arrives home to find both his foster parents brutally murdered by the venomous Whittlin Walt. P.K. quickly deduces what Whittlin Walt is after – a valuable letter from P.K’s biological parents, entitling the bearer to a small fortune. P.K. is a smart kid and wastes no time in unlocking the sacred letter from its hiding place and fleeing to Virginia City to seek refuge.
What follows is a tumultuous game of cat and mouse as Whittlin Walt closes in on his prey, determined to take possession of the letter. In order to stay alive, P.K. must keep his wits razor-sharp and adapt to his new surroundings. He soon discovers that life is far more colourful and wild than he ever realised before.
My thoughts: I have never been much of a fan of Wild West movies but I am now a definite fan of Wild West books! P.K.Pinkerton had me hooked for the duration of his tale – Caroline Lawrence adopts his voice so effectively that I struggle to remember that P.K is not actually a real person. The setting is equally convincing, transporting the reader to a world of smoky saloons filled with gamblers; hurdy girls in hooped skirts; and men dressed in buck skins. I even found myself reading all the speech in a southern drawl (and I can’t do accents at the best of times).
P.K. has grown up with his foster-father telling him that Virginia City is Satan’s playground. P.K soon discovers some truth in these words. Almost every character he meets soon betrays him; there are opium dens, ‘soiled-doves’ and the sound of gun-shot rings through the air. It is a lawless town overshadowed by the formidable presence of Whittlin Walt. With no police force to restore order, it is every man and woman out for their own. P.K. sums it up well when he remarks, “What is it about Virginia City? The people here either want to kill you or kiss you.”
P.K.’s character is fascinating. He is the son of a Lakota Indian lady and a white American rail road detective. P.K.’s ambition in life is to become a detective, just like his father. Early in the plot, P.K. confesses his big weakness in life, what he calls ‘his thorn’. This is that he cannot read human emotions and he cannot express his own emotion either. Perhaps it is his frank acknowledgement of his weakness that makes P.K. so endearing – I was constantly worried for P.K. that his ‘thorn’ would be his downfall and land him in trouble.
P.K.’s lack of ability to express his emotions does not mean he has no depth. On the contrary, P.K. shows himself to be a fiercely brave character with a strong sense of justice and morality. Additionally, his ‘thorn’ is compensated for by his quick-wittedness and sharp observations. He is also a mathematical genius.
The Case of the Desperate Desperados is fast paced and will grip even the most fidgety reader. Every chapter ends with a cliff hanger, to the point where I regularly found myself reading into the early hours of the morning. As the action unfolds, P.K.’s character develops and changes at rapid speed. He becomes more cynical, learning not to trust anyone. More crucially however, P.K. learns for the first time how to read people. This of course is a vital skill for any detective and as the story reaches its climax, P.K. relies on it to save his life.
An aspect of the book I particularly like is the ‘celebrity appearance’. The famous writer Mark Twain plays an important role in P.K.’s escapades, which adds to the historical context of the story.
This action-packed novel kept me glued to the final page… and then what a twist there is at the end! I did not see it coming. And then the plot twists again! The story concludes with a wealth of potential as P.K. sets up his own detective business, opening the door to countless more adventures.
Bring on the second book!