Thursday, August 8, 2013
The Case of the Deadly Desperados by Caroline Lawrence
The Case of the Deadly Desperados by Caroline Lawrence, 2011.
This fun western mystery set in 1862 has more to it than you might expect! For starters, there is an exciting story. P. K. Pinkerton is the child of a Native American mom and railroad detective dad, both deceased. Unfortunately, on his 12th birthday, this pattern continues when Pinky arrives home to find his loving foster father and mother murdered and dying. From his mother's final words, he learns that the killers are after something in his medicine bag. He has become the target of the dangerous Whittlin' Walt and his gang.
To get as far away from these crazy villains as possible, Pinky hops a stage to Virginia City, where he learns that the piece of paper in his bag may in fact be a letter claiming a stake in this mining town. In the unfamiliar city, he makes the acquaintance of a number of local characters, including the Soiled Dove Belle Donne, young Chinese launderer Ping, reporter Sam Clemens (yes, that Samuel Clemens) and gambler Poker Face Jace, among others. Who is friend or foe? What will happen to Pinky in a place that his preacher foster dad described as "the vilest place on earth, even worse than San Francisco"?
Pinky is a fascinating character, for many reasons. Clearly, this heroic child has behavior that fits the autism spectrum, although of course because of time period and setting this is never explicitly stated. Pinky himself is aware that he is not like everyone else, and refers to his more negative differences as "my Thorn." He can't identify emotions in other people and he can't read their faces. He cannot necessarily recognize someone he has met before if they make changes, not even his own foster mom, Ma Evangeline, when she is in a new bonnet. To help him, Ma Evangeline teaches him five expressions to watch for and what they mean.He is also non-expressive himself and dislikes being touched. Because Pinky is inscrutable, and because he is also very smart, with a photographic memory and genius for math, he is attractive to gambler Poker Face Jace, who uses Pinky's talents for his own ends and continues his education in reading people.
Another interesting aspect of The Case of the Deadly Desperados, is that the author raises doubt about Pinky's gender. I have used male pronouns when referring to Pinky, and so does Lawrence, but in the story she points out that if Pinky was female, she'd certainly be safer in Virginia City by passing as a boy. Pinky certainly takes up disguises to make his way in the mining town. Early in the book, Walt's gang members quibble over the Pinky's name, each claiming that it could belong to either gender. And at a crucial point in the plot, Pinky himself throws his gender into question in order to protect himself. Although he is never revealed to be female, Lawrence makes her readers reconsider Pinky's character and circumstances very cleverly.
The second (P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man) book in the Western Mysteries series is out, and third (P. K. Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widows) is expected in March 2014 and you can bet that I'll be reading them. I strongly suggest that you or someone you love should also give them a try!