This is the first of a series of wild-west mysteries featuring Lucas Stanton, a guy who gambles for a living and pursues women as a hobby. He’s brave when necessary but otherwise has the good sense to avoid trouble, by running flat out when necessary.
The plot involves Stanton’s being mistaken for a private detective by a woman (gorgeous of course) who offers him a lot of money to look for her lost puppy, which leads to complications involving a corrupt and delusional businessman, a ruthless gang of ex-Confederates planning to conquer their own little empire in Latin America, Russian revolutionaries, and a hidden fortune they’re all looking for.
In the course of things Stanton acquires, more or less by accident, a couple of informants, a multitalented Indian friend, and a husband and wife who insist on becoming the office staff of the detective agency he doesn’t really have, characters who will obviously show up in future novels.
I really like the premise and the characters, but I had some problems with the plot and the style. The story isn’t bad, with some nice twists and surprises and interesting historical references, but as with The Adventures of Brisco County Jr or The Thirty-nine Steps it’s best not to ask too many questions. (Then again, Alfred Hitchcock had little patience for complaints about plot holes, preferring a good yarn to strict logic, or “moronic logic” as I believe he called it.)
The prose is very readable but in spots a bit overwritten, as here:
That night he had found a willing Creole belle with midnight hair spun up in a fancy whirl dotted with pearls, a beguiling accent, and rouged lips that begged to be kissed. He had also found her lover, who carried a colchemarde. The sword cane had a wicked edge and an even deadlier tip, which Lucas avoided only through a spot of luck as the cuckolded lover slipped in the black loamy street in his haste to slay his paramour’s coxcomb.
Style is of course a matter of taste, and this is likely meant to echo the feel of 19th-century fiction, but I personally would have preferred something plainer.
Jackson Lowry is a pen-name of the prolific Bob Vardeman, an acquaintance of mine for many years. His occasional blog can be read here.