I received a free copy of this ebook to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher. It will be released 24 September 2013.
I don’t believe the literary critics who say that the Western in dead. After reading genre benders like The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell and more traditional Westerns like Kathleen Kent’s The Outcasts, it seems to me that there’s still plenty of ground to cover on the old frontier.
The Outcasts opens on Lucinda, a prostitute at a crooked brothel in Texas. The morning we meet her, she’s trying to escape and fend of an incipient epileptic seizure at the same time. You’re on her side within sentences as the clever woman uses a key she copied to head out the door with a good part of the madam’s gold in her possession. Lucinda lays false trails as she heads for Houston to meet up with the man she believes loves her, in spite of her affliction. Kent also introduces us to neophyte lawman, Nate Cannon, who’s been assigned to work with two experienced Texas rangers to bring down multiple murderer, William McGill. Cannon et al. head for east Texas, on a collision course with Lucinda. It doesn’t take long to work out that their targets are the same man.
Lucinda, on orders from McGill, goes to Middle Bayou, near Galveston, to trace legends of a gold cache buried by Jean Lafitte. Once in Middle Bayou, she uses her wiles to locate the island with the buried treasure. It also becomes clear that Lucinda is far from the innocent that you might think she is. She is amazingly ruthless as she uses people to help the man she loves. But when McGill turns up in Middle Bayou to take possession of his treasure, Lucinda starts to doubt his love when he flirts with other women–especially a young naif named May. Kent also reveals, via Nate’s narrative, that Lucinda has ties to both of the older lawmen the young state policeman is traveling with. It turns out that the “personal reasons” the men gruffly admit to are very personal indeed.
When things turn nasty in Middle Bayou–as they must–Kent takes our protagonists to New Orleans for a thrilling climax. While there are elements of the traditional Western here–wronged women, revenge, pursuit by posses, etc.–Kent mixes them into a fresh story. Granted, I haven’t read many Westerns (especially the old pulpy ones). But the story that Kent gives us in The Outcasts makes think there’s a lot of life left in the old genre. After all, justice and revenge never get tired. Authors just need to look beyond the conventions and give readers a new spin.