cover image Lucky Billy

Lucky Billy

John Vernon, . . Houghton Mifflin, $24 (294pp) ISBN 978-0-547-07423-8

Billy the Kid rides again in this literary retelling of his legendary and bloody career. The story begins with his bold escape from the Lincoln, N.Mex., jail in April 1881, then flashes back to his capture by former friend Sheriff Pat Garrett. The narrative travels back and forth between Billy’s final escape and his earlier role in the Lincoln County war. Although the novel touches on familiar incidents in Billy’s life, it also hews close to historical research in showing how the war for control of Lincoln County between the Murphy-Dolan Irish merchant ring and upstart English rancher/merchant John Tunstall was a continuation of Anglo-Irish enmity. After Tunstall is murdered, Billy goes gunning for members of the Irish ring. A pardon from New Mexico territorial governor Gen. Lew Wallace comes to naught, and the familiar story grinds to its inevitable end. Although Doyle makes dramatic use of research into Anglo-Irish tensions in the Old West, the Billy presented here is too one-dimensional to make us understand why his legend continues to hold sway in the popular imagination 127 years after his death. (Nov.)