The Devil's Trail by Robert J. Conley is the 3rd Texas Outlaws novel, continuing the tall tale of little Kid Parmlee, a young man without a home, without fear, and with just enough sense to become a true legend of the frontier.
Horses, guns, money, posses, and whiskey—this book has it all. Authenticity is the key to this type of story, and Robert J. Conley serves it up by the bucketful in The Devil’s Trail.
Outlaws have robbed a bank and a bounty has been posted. This offers an opportunity for Kid Parmlee and other local bandits to go after them, retrieve the cash, right the wrong, and serve up justice Western style—whatever that may entail. The Kid is your typical Western gunslinger: he gets the job done with hot lead, simple philosophies covered in trail dust, and women who most definitely are not there to work on the ranch or milk the cows. The action moves along nicely, taking in all the obligatory settings—Main Street, the saloon, the house of ill repute. And, of course, there’s the man in black, without which no story of this style would be complete.
“Hold on there a minute,” I said.
The feller turned and looked me in the eyes, and he had a cold stare all right. His hair was real dark brown, just almost black, and his eyes was green. He had a smooth kinda baby face, roundish, and he was wearing black mostly. His trousers and vest and boots and hat was all black, just only his shirt were a kindly light blue color. He had two Colts strapped on, too, and they was a hanging in black leather holsters off a black leather belt.
“You talking to me?” he said.
“I don’t see no one else standing there,” I said. He weren’t a very big feller, but a course, he was bigger’n me. Most ever’one is. ‘Cept a gal now and then.
“All right,” he said. “What can I do for you?”
“I’d kinda like to get me a look at that there dodger you tuck off the wall,” I said.
He looked at it hisself, and then give me a cold-eyed stare, and he said, “I don’t mind.” He handed me the dodger, and I sure enough reckanized the bastards. Well I reckanized one for sure, him being the last to come outa the bank at Fosterville. I never did read too good, but I could read enough for that Dodger. The Dawson Gang, it said. So that’s who I was after: the Dawson Gang. I had heared a little bit about them before. Then I seed that someone was offering five hunnerd apiece for the three a them bastards. That on top a my ten percent sounded pretty good. I gave the man back the dodger.
“Thanks,” I said, and turned to head for the saloon door.
“Hold on,” the man in black said. I stopped and looked back, and he come a-walking up aside a me. “Can I buy you a drink?”
The search dries up as the Sheriff, Jim Chastain, and the rest of the posse reach the end of their jurisdiction. However, Kid Parmlee is not bound by such an arrangement as jurisdiction, so he just keeps on going—partly fuelled by the money offered for a successful apprehension of the bad guys with the money bags, and partly driven by a sense of Western justice.
The man in black wants the catch the gang too, but the Kid is in no mood to share the reward money with anyone; it’s just not in his nature. But with the rest of the posse returning to town, the Dawson Gang is a daunting prospect alone, and the man in black would even up the odds.
Plus, The Kid knows the difference between right and wrong, and the man in black did help point him in the right direction and identify the name of the gang he was riding after. It seems they’re both bound to the same dusty trail of justice, and to refuse and go at it alone would be foolish—he holds out his hand and they shake on a new partnership. The Dawson Gang better watch out.
This book has a charm that is undeniable. The characters, at least the ones which dodge the bullets and stay around long enough to influence proceedings, are full of color and vibrancy.
However, I must admit to being thrown off by the dialect of Conley's writing style. The whole book reads as if a character were trying his best to sound out exactly what was said. For example, I am Scottish, and with my accent, if I say, “What school do you go to?” it might be written as “Skewjaygotae.” While seemingly authentic, this can get tiresome very quickly, and I found myself losing focus easily.
It may, of course, just be me, and the majority of you welcome that authenticity. If that’s the case, there is no doubt you will be absolutely delighted with this book, as the story far outweighs the nitpicking of the writing style.
The trail leads to Snake Creek, and they’re off in hot pursuit—still finding the time to dispatch bad guys along the way who have outlived their time on earth. The adventure never stops.
I had come outs that room up there so dizzy with wondrous feeling, that I had went and left my whiskey bottle behind. Whenever I got to the bar, that thought come to me. I was trying to decide was it worth it to go back for it, or should I just buy myself another drink at the bar. I hadn’t made my mind up yet whenever someone stepped up beside me right close. Well, that always makes me some nervous, and I turned right quick and give a look.
“Can I buy you a drink, Kid?”
I’ll be goddammed it if weren’t one a them Dawsons.
Overall, a fine entry into the Texas Outlaws series. I look forward to reading more about Kid Parmlee’s adventures on the frontier.
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Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.