Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Journey of the Dead by Loren D. Estleman (from 2011)

Journey of the Dead is an interesting take on Pat Garrett's later years that aims to be something more.  Entwining Garrett's tale with the story of an aging alchemist in pursuit of the fabled Philosopher's Stone, Estleman tries to elevate the famous lawman's inevitable decline into a meditation on time and destiny.  To some extent the author succeeds, but I could have done without it; I don't feel that the alchemist subplot was necessary for those themes to be featured in the book.  In truth, the alchemist's role in Estleman's novel is exceptionally minor, and while Estleman is able to wring some thoughtful and hauntingly poetic moments out of this character's presence, it seldom feels like more than a gimmick or a distraction.  This is Garrett's story, glossing over his early years and his fateful date with his poker buddy Billy the Kid in favor of exploring his efforts to live up to his monumental reputation as he aged and society evolved.  When the book focuses on Garrett (as it does for the bulk of the tale--I would say that Book of the Dead is 95% Pat Garrett and 5% nameless alchemist), it is intriguing and complex, expertly depicting a man whose greatest skills are becoming less relevant as the times change even as his ambition grows.  He grapples with guilt and his own wants and desires, which are frequently foolhardy and self-destructive.  All the while, he remains compelling and likable.  I enjoyed Book of the Dead and I would recommend it to fans of this material, but I think I would have given it a better grade if it was a more direct exploration of Pat Garrett's waning years.

Final Grade: B-

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