Thursday, February 23, 2012

John A Aragon, Billy the Kid's Last Ride

Welcome to our inaugural review!  The Dark Side Book Reviews will explore books that I am reading that are outside my usual genre of epic fantasy.  I will be stretching my reading boundaries and as I come across something worth talking about I will be sharing it with you.  For the first book on this review, I am talking about a western. Yes, this is a first for me, and I am just going to say at the outset that is this a great read!

While 'Billy the Kid's Last Ride' is not a fantasy in any sense of the word, it is a novel that blends history and 'what if' into a beautiful, lyrical story that captured my heart. Author John A. Aragon has written an absorbing character study of the man history calls 'Billy the Kid'. Besides the historical nature of the storyline, Aragon explores the nature and qualities of the people who surrounded William Bonney, as he preferred to be called. Aragon's understanding of the Mexican people who loved Billy, and of the often ugly nature of people on both sides of the law is unparalleled.

As most who have read my reviews know, I have never been known to read westerns! Not only that, this book is only available in hard copy and is NOT an e-pub! Nevertheless, this book intrigued me when I first heard about it, because Aragon is a practicing trial lawyer and I was extremely curious about his perspective.

Much is known and much is not known about William Bonney. Aragon has pulled it all together to form a wonderful complex tale of love, honor, loyalty and betrayal, and the things that fall somewhere in the grey area in between.

The year is 1922. We meet Billy the Kid through the investigations of prim and proper New York reporter, Percival Baron Chesterfield. Percy is sent to New Mexico to research and write an article on Pat Garrett, the man credited with killing the man who was known as William Bonney, or Billy the Kid. In the course of his investigations, Percy discovers himself both as a man and as an investigative reporter.

He also finds that his story shifts completely from Pat Garrett to the charming, well mannered man known as Billy the Kid. Percy becomes obsessed with the Kid, wanting to understand who he was as a person, and why his life had ended the way it had.

Percy struggles in the wilds of New Mexico, but he becomes infatuated with a woman, Rosario, whose family knew Billy the Kid well. His desire for her leads him to a better understanding of the events of William Bonney's life.
Percy discovers that William Bonney was born William Henry McCarty, Jr. in New York, the son of an Irish immigrant. He later took the name of his stepfather, Antrim, as an alias.

He was a man with a huge sense of humor, who didn't feel comfortable with the name of Antrim and decided to call himself William Bonney, or as the Irish would say, `Pretty William'.

Aragon's ability to get into the head of his characters is nothing short of amazing. His description of William's life and times is riveting. I was completely drawn into his world. Even the most minor of characters is fully fleshed and well drawn in only a few sentences. I felt like I really knew who and what Billy was up against.

The more that Percy digs, the more he finds, and what he finds turns everything he thought he knew on its head.

What is not widely known is that William Bonney had immense respect for the Mexican people and a deep relationship with them. They considered him to be one of their own, and called him El Chivato. They tell Percy that to them El Chivato was no Anglo. He was `muy macho', very brave like one of them, and that he could `smell the truth'.

The two stories, the old one of charming William Bonney and the modern one of the somewhat milquetoast Percy Chesterfield are entwined and both are revealed bit by bit, like glimpses through a curtained window. There are some hilarious moments in Percy's life that had me laughing out loud, one of them involving a rattlesnake. I could visualize these embarrassing but hysterically funny moments so clearly! Percy's adventures as he follows his investigation are both entertaining and enlightening. Aragon's ability to describe the environment in which his story takes place is marvelous. I was able to see quite vividly the stark beauty of the landscape and the terrain of New Mexico.

I highly recommend this tale to anyone who is looking for a compelling story that will sweep them away to another place and time. I am now firmly an admirer of the bad boy who just wanted to live a good life: Billy the Kid.