Wednesday, May 07, 2008

[Book Review] DEADWOOD by Pete Dexter


Darletha Matthews reviews DEADWOOD by Pete Dexter (Random House, 1986)

James "Wild Bill" Hickock and his friend, Charley Utter, join the gold rush to Deadwood, a violent boom town in the Black Hills. Wild Bill spends his days drinking and gambling in saloons filled with star-struck tourists. Wild Bill is the opposite of his legend—quiet in crowds, suffering from a painful disease, and married to performer Agnes Lake.

Another famous visitor to Deadwood is Calamity Jane, who plays the roles of caring nurse to the sick and love-struck nuisance to Bill and Charley. Deadwood is on the outskirts of civilization where respectable people become corrupt and outlaws show glimpses of virtue.

This gritty Western chronicles actual events and famous people from Deadwood history. There is an array of colorful characters which include prostitutes, Chinese workers, and "paper-collar" businessmen. The unexpected humor in the story derives from the folksy voice of the narrator and the clever dialogue. Although this book is not the basis for the HBO series Deadwood, fans of the show will enjoy the novel’s uncompromising portrait of the West.

Darletha Matthews, South Branch Library

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