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.)
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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