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Lucky Billy Hardcover – November 3, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Co; 1 edition (November 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547074239
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547074238
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,426,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Billy the Kid rides again in this literary retelling of his legendary and bloody career. The story begins with his bold escape from the Lincoln, N.Mex., jail in April 1881, then flashes back to his capture by former friend Sheriff Pat Garrett. The narrative travels back and forth between Billy's final escape and his earlier role in the Lincoln County war. Although the novel touches on familiar incidents in Billy's life, it also hews close to historical research in showing how the war for control of Lincoln County between the Murphy-Dolan Irish merchant ring and upstart English rancher/merchant John Tunstall was a continuation of Anglo-Irish enmity. After Tunstall is murdered, Billy goes gunning for members of the Irish ring. A pardon from New Mexico territorial governor Gen. Lew Wallace comes to naught, and the familiar story grinds to its inevitable end. Although Doyle makes dramatic use of research into Anglo-Irish tensions in the Old West, the Billy presented here is too one-dimensional to make us understand why his legend continues to hold sway in the popular imagination 127 years after his death. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Vernon (The Last Canyon, 2001) starts his latest literary western off with a bang: on April 28, 1881, in Lincoln, New Mexico, the outlaw called Billy the Kid makes his infamous jailbreak, shooting dead two sheriff’s deputies and fleeing, still in chains, by horse into the Capitan Mountains. Alternating chapters looking back to how his legend began center on the Lincoln County War, a blood-soaked feud with no innocent bystanders. In 1877 an enterprising young Englishman named John Tunstall dares open a mercantile store that challenges local Irishmen’s monopoly and pays with his life. Teenage Billy, one of his loyal hired guns, falls in with a band determined to avenge Tunstall’s murder. The lawlessness of the period, in which criminality can mean simply being on the wrong side of corrupt officials, is evoked to perfection, scenes of unremitting brutality playing out against the harsh beauty and shifting colors of the landscape. Billy, both amused and bemused by his unlikely celebrity, emerges as an accidental leader forced to survive by violence until his time inevitably runs out. --Sarah Johnson

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Customer Reviews

I love historical fiction, but it should be CLEARLY labeled as such otherwise it comes off as a book that appears to be a factual account.
B. Stewart
Unfortunately, the disjointed story and the rather tedious letters that didn't seem to have much bearing on the plot overshadowed the book's strong points.
James R. Spitznas
All I really want to do here is say, "read Misfit or G. Stewart's review," because both describe this book a lot better than I could ever.
Ellis Bell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Red Rock Bookworm TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Lucky Billy tells us, once again, of the legend that was Billy The Kid. Orphaned at 14, Billy's next seven years were filled with wandering and carousing, some of it done with Pat Garrett the man who would eventually kill him.

Enamoured with the Mexican culture of the Southwest, Billy was fluent in Spanish as well as English and became a hero of sorts to the Hispanic community of New Mexico, who saw him as a defender or the poor and vanquished (a Robin Hood of the old west?)

Vernon explains that the turning point in Billy's short life was the Lincoln County War, (the U.S. version of the conflict between the English and Irish that had been going on in Europe for years), a dispute that ended in murder and revenge killings and earned Billy his reputation as a hired gun.

This Billy is more lost little boy than man. His escapades appear to those of a wild teen-ager turned loose with no adult supervision than the actions of a brutal killer.

I found this book to be a little dry in places with certain aspects of the Billy character rather flat and uninteresting. Perhaps the fact that I had recently read Larry McMurtry's Telegraph Days (in which Billy made a brief appearance) contributed to this feeling. McMurtry's characters literally ooze personality, a feature which Vernon's Billy is sadly lacking. This experience was more like reading a history book than a novel.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Pretty Brown Girl VINE VOICE on September 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
John Vernon, the author, has obviously done extensive research on the Wild West, the Lincoln County Wars, and the Kid himself; but I suppose it was the presentation of the material and the "telling" of the Billy the Kid story that failed to pull me into the story and keep me interested. I will admit that my knowledge of Billy the Kid was extremely limited and I chose this book via the Amazon Vine Program in an effort to gain a better understanding of the man and the circumstances surrounding his life and death. Unfortunately, I had to resort to Wikipedia and other sources to better understand the players and context of the passages/chapters. Doing so helped me understand the complex and overlapping backgrounds of the numerous characters introduced via epistolary text and elongated passages of dialogue from differing characters. This style may work well for some, but not so much for me. I gleaned over sections to pull what I needed from the story to keep it moving.

Having read the back cover and the author's accolades, I was really excited about the book. However, after the first few chapters, I realized it was not engaging, nor what I expected (which is fine, I like surprises); but by the time I completed it, I was disappointed with the offering -- I really wanted to enjoy the book much more but it fell short -- largely in the author's choice of "how" to tell The Kid's story. This could have been a very compelling story...it was not.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Brian Baker TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In his novel "Lucky Billy" author John Vernon has brought us a historical novel centered on outlaw Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War.

The historical novel is a difficult genre, because the book generally has to conform to known facts; you can't write a novel about the Titanic and have it survive the iceberg, for instance.

Vernon's task is more difficult because Billy the Kid has been the topic of so many books and movies that his profile as a subject is very high. As a history and Old West aficionado I'm very familiar not only with Billy's history, but with the extant body of work already out there.

Because of that, I probably didn't enjoy this work as much as others may who come to it without that background. This was really pretty much a rehash of old material with no new insights, though the history seemed pretty accurate. I did find myself at several points thinking, "yep, I remember that scene from Young Guns" (which was a surprisingly historically accurate movie in many respects) or some other work.

Vernon also mixed his styles, some chapters being extremely expository (Pat Garrett TELLING how he did some things; Tunstall's annoying letters to his family TELLING then things he'd done), while most are in a more traditional narrative format. This detracted from the flow of the story, as well as making the classic mistake of TELLING rather than SHOWING key parts of the story. Vernon also shows a tendency to occasionally wander off on tangents, spending two pages describing some irrelevant thoughts a character may be having while riding from one town to another, for instance; or a page or two trying to describe a desert landscape, often somewhat incoherently.

His style is workmanlike though uninspired. I didn't find any of the passages particularly memorable, but he managed to tell his story. Not particularly engaging, but not too bad.

So... three stars.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By deeper waters on August 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Having read novels and scholarly accounts of the settling of the American southwest, I was looking forward to what was described as "provocative picture of the west" and a "fresh nuanced portrait of this outlaw's dramatic and violent life". The book did not deliver. Mr. Vernon obviously knows his historical material but was not successful in transforming it into a readable novel; surprising for a teacher of creative writing. The narrated sections were not bad but the multiple, lengthy and stilted dialogues made for a laborious read. If you have a love for words, you will enjoy the arcane vocabulary but if you are looking for a historical novel that is both accurate and engaging, there are better out there.
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