Young Tom Walker is twelve in 1837. His mother is lost to the pock, his father is a 'quiet man in a noisy world' - a spectacles salesman. Escaping the depression and the disease-ridden boroughs of New York can only be a good thing. His father agrees to become a salesman for Samuel Colt's new handgun with a revolving chamber. They set off westwards from New Jersey with a wooden model gun and twelve of the real thing. Before they can get to the west, tragedy befalls Tom, and he is orphaned. Tom resolves to return to NJ to collect the commission from his father's order book, and it is on his way back that he meets Henry Stands, a retired US marshall. Stands is large, gruff, and although he is heading east, he has no wish to be saddled with an orphan, he'll only take him so far. Tom persists, and eventually earns Stands' grudging respect as they make their way east - a journey not without adventure.
There are many parallels between The Road to Reckoning and True Grit by Charles Portis, the former could be viewed as an east coast version of the latter. Although both Tom and Mattie are orphans, Mattie is single-mindedly hunting the murderer of her father; Tom just wants to go home to his aunt with his father's last pay packet. Both eventually manage to awaken paternal instincts in their chosen protectors, but whereas Mattie sees Marshall Rooster Cogburn as the best man for the job, Stands is the only man around who can help Tom. Both books also have their narrators recounting their childhood from old age, adding the veneer of wisdom that comes with the years to the story.
The Road to Reckoning may owe a debt to Charles Portis, however it did feel very real - you don't need to be in Texas or the canyons of the West to achieve that - just leave the city and you're a pioneer. This book is an assured debut, well-written and emotionally involving and I really enjoyed it. (9/10)