Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Case of the Deadly Desperados

Shoot-'em-up Westerns are a rare thing in children's literature. It's one sub-genre of the historical fiction canon that I can say I haven't read a lot of. Truth be told, I haven't even encountered many. Lots of historical fiction novels for children are set within the same time period as Caroline Lawrence's THE CASE OF THE DEADLY DESPERADOS, but none in recent memory have taken the same path Lawrence has to tell her story. This book was a blast!

THE CASE OF THE DEADLY DESPERADOS begins with P.K. Pinkerton, our twelve-year old hero, hiding out in the bottom of a cave. His foster ma and pa have been scalped and murdered by none other than Whittlin' Walt and his 'pards. And worse yet, now they're after P.K. because he has in his possession a document that would make its bearer incredibly rich. Gunfights, clever disguises, Soiled Doves, and saloons ensue.

If this book was eligible for the Newbery, I would be championing it pretty hard this winter. But sadly, Caroline Lawrence does not reside in the US and apparently this novel was published in the UK before its rights were purchased and published here, early this 2012. Either way, I am making it my mission to insert this title into as many conversations as I possibly can.

Random Acquaintance #1: Hey Mr. H! Did you catch Clint Eastwood on the Republican National Convention the other night?

Mr. H: No I didn't. Have you read THE CASE OF THE DEADLY DESPERADOS by Caroline Lawrence though?

Random Acquaintance #2: Hey Mr. H! How did your fantasy football draft go?

Mr. H: Not bad. Have you read THE CASE OF THE DEADLY DESPERADOS by Caroline Lawrence?

Random Acquaintance #3: Hey Mr. H! How are the kiddos? 

Mr. H: The fam is doing well. Thanks for asking. By the way, have you read THE CASE OF THE DEADLY DESPERADOS by Caroline Lawrence?

Seriously. I cannot say enough about how much I enjoyed this book. I am a father of two children now. My daughter is two and a half years old and my son is six months. My life consists of going to school, coming home to entertain them and make supper, wash dishes and pick up the house, put the kids to bed, and then maybe, just maybe, take a little bit of time to catch up on school work and lesson plans. Plus, I've started graduate school this year and am earning my masters in Educational Leadership. Suffice it to say, I don't have a lot of time to read for fun.

Taking part in the discussions on Heavy Medal during Newbery season is something I love to do. I can't possible read even half of the books people will be discussing in depth on that blog this year, but if I focus my efforts, I can tackle the big ones. Wasting time reading books that are ineligible, or not worthy of discussion, will frustrate me because I could have spent that time reading a favorite of bloggers over there. Even knowing that THE CASE OF THE DEADLY DESPERADOS is ineligible, doesn't bother me. Not in the least! I should be upset but I don't care. That's how much I liked this book!

I loved P.K.'s voice. It's reminiscent of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME. I'm sure Asperger's syndrome is not something that was being diagnosed back in the Wild West. Which makes the intricacies of P.K.'s narrative so rich. It's obvious P.K. is autistic, but a name cannot be placed on it because it doesn't exist. P.K. refers to his difficulties showing and feeling emotion as his "thorn". He struggles socially because he has no emotional response to situations. His foster ma and pa were scalped right in front of him and he was as sober as could be!

Which makes Lawrence's twist ending, that much more clever. A twist ending you say? Sometimes knowing a twist ending is coming, ruins a reading experience. Not that case with this book. I promise you, there are two surprises in this book you will never see coming. I didn't anyway. And I can't remember the last time a book caught me the way this one did.

It's crude and it's violent. It's thrilling and surprising. It's the book I've enjoyed most this year. I can't wait to see where Lawrence takes P.K.

Final Grade: A

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