Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Book review: "To Hell on a Fast Horse: Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and the Epic Chase to Justice in the Old West"

Perhaps the most important line in "To Hell on a Fast Horse" occurs in the introduction. Describing how he wrote the book, author Mark Lee Gardner says, "Nothing was made up."

Indeed, "To Hell on a Fast Horse," is a meticulously researched book that chronicles the lives of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Gardner delved into old newspapers, diaries, letters, books and historical records to separate Wild West fact from legend. I admire his commitment to authenticity; some authors too often blur the line between reality and "creative license."

Gardner's research shows that the Old West of 1870 to 1900 was indeed a dangerous place, where the law was minimal and men frequently settled scores with bullets. Gardner takes the reader into real-life shootouts, jail breaks and manhunts. But unlike the movies, it's not always clear who the good guys are everyone seemed to have some dark deed in his past.

It's remarkable to see how much trouble Billy the Kid got into in his short life, and is equally amazing to see how lawman Pat Garrett frequently sought out dangerous situations and kept coming out alive.

While the book is about both men, "To Hell on a Fast Horse" is more Garrett's story than Billy's. Garrett's life is portrayed as both heroic and bittersweet.

While Gardner does well with Garrett and Billy, there are so many other characters that drift in and out of the stories, it's sometimes hard to keep them straight. They are, after all, almost all male, and almost all rough, tough gunslingers. They blend together.

A map would have been good, too, since the characters roam about New Mexico and a bit of Texas.

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