Rating: 5 out of 5
I pride myself on being someone who will read - and enjoy - anything that comes my way. So when "Have Gun, Will Play" came up on my TBR list, I was struck by the awareness that, outside the Lone Ranger adventures my mother would read to me as a wee lad, I have never read a western. Ever. Not that I've been actively avoiding them - "Blood Meridian" has intrigued me, given my adoration of Cormac McCarthy - they just haven't come my way, and I haven't searched them out. Consider westerns my "lost genre".
So into my realm of personal unawareness comes this quaint and fun little book by Camille LaGuire. "Have Gun, Will Play" is the story of Mick and Casey, a pair of young gunslingers traipsing through the old west after having severed ties with a famous lawman. They come upon the small ramshackle mining town of Newton and are immediately thrust into a gunfight with invading outlaws. In the aftermath of this conflict, they meet up with a banker named Montel Addley, whose brother is a paranoid land owner who basically runs the town and its surrounding area. Mick and Casey are hired to usher the more important Addley's daughter, Laurie, and her aunt Clara, to a safe haven, far away from the range war that is being waged.
Along the way there are numerous betrayals, schemes, a couple kidnappings, and a mysterious bag of toys. The story is told through Mick's eyes, and we are held in mystery as to what's going on because Mick, in his own adorable and earnest way, is a bit clueless. The tale twists and turns and captures the reader's imagination by never lingering too long on any single plot point. This is done pretty expertly, and with Mick being such an endearing character, we don't mind looking at the world through his point of view. In fact, there are many instances of comedy that come about simply through his tendency towards self abasement.
The background information of both Mick and Casey is a slow development. When we meet them at the beginning, they are simply thrown into our laps. Their history is presented to us in a slow trickle throughout the novel, so much so that even in the last paragraph we are given tidbits that let us greater understand their character. This was skillfully executed, and flaunts the author's impressive mastery of character development.
It is within these characters that some of the more interesting aspects of the novel are uncovered. Along with the mystery and intrigue of the plot, this same mystery and intrigue surrounds them, as well...especially Casey. She is portrayed as a precocious yet troubled young (VERY young - it's in question whether she is even 17 years old, which to us modern-day Americans is a bit disturbing) girl who married Mick the day they met. She is grumpy and damaged, a scowling mess of a young woman, who, despite the hardships of her past, is not yet jaded enough to turn her back on the world or the people who inhabit it. In many ways, despite her rough exterior, she is still an innocent. She struggles with the mores of right and wrong. She wants compassion and love yet often rejects it. She'll act the mature lady one moment and the young girl she is the next - which completely fits with a girl her age. She constantly questions the motives of others, and even her own, and it isn't until she meets a like soul in the character of Laurie that she starts to lower her walls and come out of her shell.
The whole of the novel kept this reviewer captivated throughout, and it is a really fun read. The structure is sound, the characters are sufficiently likeable (and contemptible), and there is enough action to keep me feeling eager to turn the page. It really is very good, and despite my earlier stated lack of knowledge of the genre, I found myself not thinking at all about the setting. It felt as if these dilapidated towns, dusty settings, and men and women on horseback were the most natural things in the world. That, in itself, is an accomplishment.
Every part of me wanted to give this book a four-star rating. Initially, that's what I'd placed in the header. However, after going back and reviewing what I'd written, I realized that I can't justify knocking off a star. There is really nothing wrong with the book. It's highly entertaining and a nice little mystery. Add to that the fact it kept me intrigued and entertained, and I realized that the urge came about simply because I feel I've given too many books that ultimate honor...and it's time I understood there is no shame in that. I've been lucky, and I've chosen well when picking books to review.
This book is just another one of those good choices. It gets a hearty recommendation from me.