By Caroline Lawrence
Published by Orion
ISBN 978 1 4440 0169 3
The Case of the Deadly Desperados is the first story in a new series of novels by Caroline Lawrence, author of The Roman Mysteries, a popular collection of young teen detective stories set in the world of ancient Rome. Fans had plenty to enjoy with that series, and when Lawrence finished it off with the 17th adventure, many asked: what will she come up with next?
Lawrence addicts haven't had to wait long for their favourite writer to come up with a new and exciting idea that could be as popular as The Roman Mysteries. For her new storyline, she has moved west and has jumped forward a few centuries. The Western Mysteries are set in the American Wild West of cowboys and Indians. In the middle of the 19th century, this vast area was developing, opening up and finding a new identity.
And again, Lawrence has researched her history with great care and attention. The feel of the place is as important as the story, and here the author excels. Readers will certainly know a fair bit about the American Wild West when they come to the end of Deadly Desperados. They will also be treated to a rip-roaring story, an intriguing central character, bags of local colour and a trio of villains as evil as anything that ever existed in ancient Rome.
Twelve-year-old P. K. is half Sioux-Indian and half-white, which makes him a bit of an outcast from the start. When his Native American mother dies and his white father runs off, P. K. is taken in by a preacher and his wife. The boy's father, a railroad detective, left his son a small bag containing a map before he left. But a map of what? When the preacher and his wife are murdered, P. K. runs off to Virginia City to find out the truth about his father. And then the adventure really begins.
The majority of the action in Deadly Desperados takes place in the thrilling setting of Virginia City, where P. K. comes across good-time girls, friends who double-cross him, Chinese settlers, gun-toting silver miners and everything else Lawrence can throw into the mix. And always, just a few steps behind the resourceful P. K., are the villains who killed his adoptive parents and who are obviously after that map.
There are quite a few strands of mystery running through Deadly Desperados, and one of the most intriguing is the identity of P. K. himself. The story is told as a first-person narrative, and P. K.'s voice is authentic and unusual. He doesn't have a mind that works as readers might think it should, and he sees what is going on around him with a strange perspective. Obviously, more about P. K. will be revealed in later stories.
Deadly Desperados speeds along like a stagecoach being chased by baddies. The chapters are short and fast-paced, and the end of the story comes much too soon. Lawrence is onto another winner here if she uses this first adventure as a standard.
John Millen can be contacted at MillenBookshelf@aol.com