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Lucky Billy Hardcover – November 3, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.