'You took up a gun, your world could turn upside down in a heartbeat. A bank. A gas station. A patrol, the other side of the world. Or a robbery, the fields of Texas. You stepped off, the fall could be an inch, a mile—unending. Nobody to save you, nobody there.'
An American Outlaw is a stunningly stylish dose of southern American crime fiction and you know when you enjoy reading something so much you're practically buzzing when you sit down to write a review. Well that's how I'm feeling and all from looking at James Lee Burke on Amazon and clicking through customers also bought section. Certainly glad I took a punt on this.
What captured the atmosphere, the characters and a chase laden plot perfectly was John Stonehouse's style of writing and all this in a debut novel that's left me eagerly waiting for his next offering. You know I like my quotes so there's a couple scattered through the review.
The style of writing is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, it's short, sharp, sparse and not a wasted word in site. There's no beating around the bush and it takes a little while getting used to, it's not for everyone but you can say that for every book ever written. I'll give you an example of a direct prose that borders on cutting but at the same time a mite refreshing.
‘I faced a lot of things. But I couldn't look her in the eye, the girl I met in second grade. Freckles and the chestnut hair. If every bone in her body had gone, she couldn't have looked more broken. Crushed. She told me she could sit on that porch, not a soul could see her—not a soul could hear her ask the world why it took everything. The boy she loved from eight years old.’
To the story a group of ex-marines plan a robbery spree, on the day of the bank job Gilman Francis James, a descendant of the infamous Frank & Jesse James is left stranded as a power blow out robs him of petrol and the ability to phone his partners. Their plans plunge into catastrophe and pretty soon it's all down to improvisation and the unknown as they become wanted fugitives at large. Every man and his dog on their case.
On The hunt US deputy Marshal John Whicher, four main strategic points, four towns and 'thirty thousand square miles of desert and mountain and honest to god wilderness.'
And just what Gil didn't need when lying low, a hard headed young woman with plans of her own and a shotgun. Tennille needs cash, needs an out for her daughter, escape from a partner and Gil drops into her lap like a tainted gift from God.
Right is forever broken, compromised, wrong takes over until finally the boundaries between good and immorality fade into obscurity as everyone's reasons come to the fore.
Atmospheric I guess would be the perfect word to describe this, bleak and harsh conditions, the mountains, the trails, the rain and the desert almost taking on the role of a vengeful character, providing help then wrenching it away in a storm of indifference.
'Dust is everywhere, he screws his eyes tight against it. He holds his jacket across his mouth in the choking haze, sand scattering, the ground shifting. Like smoke beneath his boots.’
Apologies for the long review but I did like this and I think it shows. A read with plenty of depth, an ending that just felt right, one the reader could appreciate and even applaud if you’re of an excitable type. Three compelling characters that surprisingly you find, at some point you’re actually rooting for all of them.