I don’t usually even like Westerns, but Jonathan Eaton’s A Good Man for an Outlaw is in a class by itself. You might call it the Supernaturally Enhanced Southwestern Gothic Epic genre. (If you can make a catchy acronym out of that, be my guest.)
The story’s unusual narrator is the ghost of a freshly killed outlaw, who’s surprised when he doesn’t go to Hell, but stays in Texas as a disembodied spirit instead. As the story unfolds, though, rife with murder, vengeance, love, suspicion, and betrayal, the reader might justifiably conclude that Hell is actually just a part of Texas. There might be a little bit of Heaven in there somewhere too, but the Hell part is for sure.
In other words, this is a dark story. There’s plenty of violence, and a high body count, though I guess you can’t exactly call it a tragedy by the old test, since not everybody dies. The narrative doesn’t shy away from graphic descriptions of battles and death wounds. I’m reminded of some slightly better-known epics: definitely the Iliad, and many of the Norse sagas as well. (Another relevant comparison, considering the nature of the local critters, might be to the Cattle Raid of Cooley.) And there’s a lot of deadpan humor, too, again like the Norse sagas, though not the Iliad–the Greeks, or Homer anyway, didn’t find such things quite as funny for some reason.
The characters are well drawn–among them Hayes, a (mostly) heroic lawman; Fowler and the appropriately named Litch, lawmen of a considerably less heroic stripe; the crafty widow Murray; Matthew, a young man framed for murder; Bronco Joe, an escaped indentured servant; assorted cowboys, miners, outlaws, and strolling circus performers; and a tribe of Indians who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time–that is, America in the nineteenth century. Their adventures are all absorbing, and you’ll even feel a touch of sympathy for the black hats, now and then.
The dead outlaw makes a perfect omniscient narrator. He can go anywhere to follow the action, and he can even see part-way into people’s thoughts, so we get multiple points of view as well. His unique, unpunctuated voice is perfect for the story he tells. Take Riddley Walker, give him a quick spelling course, drop him onto the prairie with a cowboy hat and a six-shooter, and you’ll have some idea of what to expect. Eaton does a great job maintaining this style; I didn’t notice any missteps at all.
If there were more justice here and now than there apparently was in Old Texas, this book would make a best-seller list or two. As it is, A Good Man for an Outlaw is highly recommended by this blogger, whose burgeoning follower count has now reached
four three (Hey, George? George, where did you go? Was it something I wrote?)