“My name is P.K. Pinkerton and before this day is over I will be dead.” – Opening line of The Case of the Deadly Desperados
After this first line, the story of P.K. Pinkerton, the protagonist, moves along at the pace of stampeding wild horses. This western adventure begins with P.K. returning to his small house in the Nevada Territory to find his foster parents murdered in what looks like an Indian attack. He discovers that a group of desperadoes, led by a wanted man, came to the house looking for a deed that is in P.K.’s possession. P.K. flees to nearby Virginia City where he finds out that the deed in his possession gives the bearer the rights to a vast tract of land which happens to contain many silver mines. All he has to do is officially register the deed in town and the riches could be his. If only things were that easy…
I think readers looking for an adventure will devour this book. In the opening, readers find out that the protagonist is hiding in a mine shaft writing this story about what has happened so far in case he doesn’t make it through the day. There is a constant thread of danger throughout the novel that will leave readers flipping pages to find out how P. K. got into the situation detailed at the beginning of the story. I will warn readers not to read too fast because they will miss out on the great sensory details and the historical facts. Lawrence weaves in details about the Comstock Lode and Virginia City, as well as actual people like Sam Clemens (aka Mark Twain) that really brought the story to life and made me want to find out more about these things.
On Amazon, this book is recommended for grades 3 and up, but I can see parents with students in the lower bracket of this recommendation having problems with some of the material in this book. Characters are killed and maimed; P.K. meets women who are referred to as ‘Soiled Doves’; there are a few light swears (though P.K. does edit by inserting ‘blank’ at times in people’s speech); and time is spent in an opium den. Based on these features, I would personally move the recommended reading level to 5th grade or up, but there are always mature readers younger than that who I would not necessarily keep the book away from. Plus, all of these features add to the historical accuracy so they make sense in this novel.
As a reader, I do not seek out western themed stories; however, I find that when I read them, I tend to enjoy them. One novel that this book reminded me of is Black Storm Comin’ (recommended), a story of an African-American boy who must provide for his family. He decides to do this by illegally taking over a route for the Pony Express. Both of these stories follow boys in the American west during the 1860s who must act like adults if they hope to survive.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. It had plenty of adventure and a variety of side characters that really made the Wild West setting come to life. There are also a few twists in the plot that keep things interesting. I am now eagerly awaiting book two in this series!