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Desperadoes [Paperback]

Ron Hansen
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 May 2008
Aged 65 Emmett Dalton is the last survivor of the legendary Dalton gang, now he lives off his memories in Hollywood. Combining fact and fiction Ron Hansen depicts the outlaw past of the Daltons and the West they travelled. The Daltons brothers turn from being peace officers in the Indian territories to a life of rustling. When their leader, Bob, meets Eugenia Moore, a schoolteacher who begins to plan their robberies, they become the most notorious outlaws of their time. As their raids, on trains and banks, become more daring and successful the price on their heads and the pursuit of the law increase. Then they ride into Coffeyville, intending to rob both the town s banks.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Souvenir Press Ltd (12 May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0285638181
  • ISBN-13: 978-0285638181
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 341,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A literary approach to a Western that comes as close to a Ford/Peckinpah synthesis as can be hoped for on the written page. --George P. Pelecanos

About the Author

Ron Hansen is the author of The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford, now a movie starring Brad Pitt.

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First Sentence
When Marshal Frank Dalton was murdered by whiskey runners in 1887, the federal government shipped him to Coffeyville, Kansas, in a mahogany box filled with ice. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a fine grimness 13 Mar 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
ron hansen is a most excellent writer. in his western novels, he builds on documentary fact with his deep and poetic imagination to create a credible, almost tangible world.
his protagonists, often drifting aimlessly or forced into criminality by poverty, endure the roles of outcast or outsider with occasional moments of success, but little joy, which is probably how it was.
the masterly "assassination of jesse james by the coward robert ford" has a little more impetus and tension than "desperadoes," but both books have a ring of authenticity about them, thanks to hansen's detailed imaginative empathy with those who live on the edge of society, looking in.
the book is full of rain and mud and bad weather and is far from the conventional world of the western, while retaining some of that excitement.victims of shootings, for example, in hansen's books do not often die cleanly, and i'm sure that's how it was also.
a fine book, by a first rate writer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Desperadoes 30 Jun 2013
By Amanda Jenkinson TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Ron Hansen's first novel is a vivid fictional reimagining of the exploits of the infamous real-life Dalton gang. It takes the form of a memoir by 65 year old Emmett Dalton, the last surviving member of the gang, who recalls their exploits as train robbers and cold-bloodied murderers, and recounts their last ill-fated raid on two banks in Coffeyville, Kansas. For his part in that raid Emmett served 15 years in prison. On his release he moved to Hollywood, re-invented himself and made his fortune by legitimate means.
The Daltons were amongst the most notorious outlaws of their time, and here we see their heartlessness and mindless cruelty - not to mention occasional stupidity. Hansen shows us the Wild West as it really was, not the romanticised Hollywood version. These were dangerous, bad men in a lawless time, who showed no mercy or compunction about their actions. Hansen's style is spare and laconic, with some deft touches and very funny one-liners. The action is fast-paced and exciting, but with some gentler and quieter moments, which give a glimpse into the gang's day-to-day life - as when a couple of them spend the afternoon practising jumping of a roof straight onto their horses. I'd never thought about this being a skill that would have to be practised! Details such as this give an authenticity and realism to the novel, and engage the reader perhaps more than just learning about their criminal exploits.
Comparisons with Larry McMurtry and books such as Lonesome Dove are no doubt inevitable, and I don't think Hansen achieves McMurtry's mastery of the genre here. His characterisation lacks the same depth, and thus fails to evoke our empathy, and sometimes it is a little hard to distinguish between the characters.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cinematic, smell-the-horses writing style 8 May 2000
By Angela Belt - Published on
Desperadoes is a fictionalized account of the exploits of the Dalton gang, but it reads like the truth. Ron Hansen breathes life into these characters.
Hansen's cinematic style put me in the moment. I could smell the nervous horses as Grat crept among them at night, culling a rancher's string of ponies. I could feel the cold trickle down my neck as Bob tipped back his rain-soaked stetson during a stakeout.
Although the Daltons' story is overshadowed by their dreams of greedy glory and instances of thoughtless brutality, as Hansen tells it, they still displayed the occasional burst of honor or gallantry. Emmett, Bob and Grat Dalton became real for me.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars UNFLINCHING REALISM STILL ROMANTIC 27 Jun 2007
By Michael W. Kennedy - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Ron's Hansen's first novel, DESPERADOS, is the story of the Dalton gang as related by Emmett Dalton, the lone survivor. Written in gritty Western noir style, Mr Hansen's unflinching realism attempts to tell the tale without romanticism. Yet, strangely, the reader is left rooting for these pathological killers as they shoot down men trying to protect their property and their lives. This empathy, intended or not, may be the product of Mr Hansen's skill as a writer, which is evident in DESPERADOS. Still, I found myself manipulated by the cardboard, unflattering portraits of honest citizens who were shot down by this band of thieves and murderers. Your call. Three and one-half stars.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Murders romanticized 10 Nov 2010
By L. Anderson - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this book to compliment my research for a novel I am writing about deputy marshals of the Indian Territory, Bob and Grat Dalton being two such men. I found the book interesting in the way the author presents the story through the eyes of the younger brother, Emmet Dalton. He helps the reader experience the dysfunctional life of this ruthless family of brothers, but it is not pleasant. The young men choose early on to disregard their up-bringing and take up the wild ways of the outlaw for the sheer joy of it. As seen from their eyes, the robbing and killing they did are a necessary part of their effort to gain glory and riches. There are many humorous parts but also disgusting parts such as where Emmet describes the outlandish sexual habits of his brothers and the other gang members. I also found that the author took license with some of the details from history describing events which probably did not happen exactly that way. i.e. the Daltons' encounters with Chris Madsen. I found the book worth reading if you can wade through the sadistic parts. The author does not idealize these murderers, but presents them with weaknesses which makes the reader sympathize with them. Do not read it for accurate history but for a more realistic picture from the author's point of view.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hansen's Prose Sparkles 8 Dec 2009
By Dbmsewer - Published on
I don't think there's a better writer anywhere than Ron Hansen. His prose is beautiful and compelling. Mariette in Ecstasy was a breathtaking read and this novel is no less a work of art.

It's interesting that one reviewer compared this to Lonesome Dove and found it lacking. I read both books for a comparison on fictionalized accounts of the West in graduate school and found Hansen's novel much more compelling. Yes, the characters are cold, cruel. There is almost a sort of wall between them and the reader. That is how Hansen intended to portray them. He did extensive research on geography, history and character and the result is an unromanticized view of who these people were, how they lived and the hurts they inflicted on the world around them. They were not sympathetic. This is not meant to be a sweeping fictional saga of the Wild West that in fact existed for a very brief time however it dominates the public imagination. In terms of pure literary achievement, I think this stands way above anything I've read on that period.

Whether you are a history of the West buff or not, I'd recommend this novel just as a study in of creative writing. It's an example of what great writers can achieve.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vivid and Authentic but Not Fully Engaging 7 Dec 2008
By Stuart W. Mirsky - Published on
Vivid in sweep and detail, fresh in style and voice, this tale of the Dalton Gang's rise, exploits and final fall, told from the perspective of the lone survivor some forty or so years later, still leaves one feeling a little let down at the end.

It's hard to root for the guys who are wantonly killing otherwise innocent folk while rampaging and whoring through the countryside, rustling horses, stealing cattle, and robbing trains and banks. The final shoot out, which puts all but the youngest member of the original Dalton gang down for the count, is exciting and, perhaps, the best part of the book which otherwise tends to drag in some of the earlier sections. But it's not enough to offset the sense of nihilistic aimlessness that pervades much of the story.

Though extremely well written (I loved Jansen's capacity to capture the rich detail of this imagined frontier world) the characters simply failed to win me over because of their rather cold heartlessness and often mindless cruelty. I was also a little put off by the first person narration which, we're told, is enriched by what our narrator heard from others after the fact, thus enabling him to be able to recount the most intimate details regarding events he had no part in. But even given this sort of second hand information, it's hard to credit his knowledge of some of the events he recounts. This part of the tale just didn't ring true enough to sustain the illusion of veracity a novel requires.

All of this said, the voice perfectly captures its era, or so it seemed to me. One reads this book with the sense that one is seeing the old West (or this part of it, anyway) as it really was and not through some romanticized patina or otherwise distorted lense. Still, it wasn't fully satisfying and, as an effort to give us a demythologized picture of the Western mythos, it's less powerful, less moving than a book like Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove: A Novel (Lonesome Dove). Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton, Emmett and Bill all seem rather thin characters, hard to care about in the way we come to care about Gus MaCrae, Captain Woodrow Call and their assorted hangers-on in McMurtry's book. Even Miss Eugenia Moore, Bob Dalton's risque girlfriend and the real brains of the gang, is only mildly interesting and comes across as a somewhat distant and rather stereotypical Western gun moll type.

It's their displaced romanticism, we're told, their near childish love of adventure for its own sake, combined with a lack of underlying moral scruples, that drives the bunch of them into this rather dissolute and pointless life. Or, rather, that's what drives Bob and Eugenia and Emmett. Big, dumb Grat just unites a lack of scruples with pure cussedness while Bill, who seems an intelligent up-and-comer when we first meet him, with grand and admirable ambitions, turns out to lack even the most basic of sentiments in a culture like this, kin loyalty. That the brothers get their start as lawmen (one older brother, Frank, is killed in the line of duty as a lawman in Indian Territory) is never fully reconciled with the kind of lawbreakers they finally become.

Still, if you want to see how things might have been in the old West, and don't much care about heroes, even flawed ones such as we get in Lonesome Dove, then this book is certainly worth a read. I was especially interested in it for the picture it gives of late 19th century Oklahoma, some 40 or so years after the Five Civilized Tribes had been involuntarily relocated there from the east coast as a result of Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830.

author of The King of Vinland's Saga
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