Friday, May 30, 2014

Review: Sundance by David Fuller

I received an advanced review copy from the publisher via NetGalley. My opinions are my own.
US Release Date: May 29, 2014

Harry Longabaugh, better known as the Sundance Kid, allegedly died in Bolivia in 1901 but the details are so uncertain that many speculate he lived on. This novel is based on the idea that he was instead captured and spent years in prison under an assumed name before being released.

If you’re expecting an action packed thriller about the Wild West, this is not it. While it’s spotted with action and starts out in the west, it’s mostly a little slower paced than that and quickly moves to the East coast, in New York City. It is partially about Harry learning to find his way, not only in the East, but also in a world which changed a lot during the first decade of the 20th century. He reflects a lot on the past and present and how, as an older man, he might have changed too. All of this really allows the historical setting to flourish and weaves in some historic events of the time period.

However, it’s not just a meandering reflection of self discovery. Harry’s goal, the thing that drives him, is to find his Etta, who he sent away to live her life and not be tied down by his incarceration. She still continued to send him letters but then suddenly, two years before his release, the letters stopped. Harry is trying to find her or discover her fate, and that makes it a little bit like a mystery novel, though I wouldn’t officially class it as such. Equally, even though Harry is driven by his love for Etta, I wouldn't call it a romance either. Harry’s journey takes him through the many worlds of early 20th century New York City, navigating through Chinatown and Little Italy, going up against the Black Hand, exploring the world of journalism and art. It also brushes him up against legendary figures like Theodore Roosevelt and Lillian Wald. Meanwhile, Pinkerton Charlie Siringo is hot on Harry’s trail, hunting him down after Harry was forced to shoot a young men with a grudge in self defense the day he was released from prison.

It’s well written with mostly good character development, though at times I didn’t really feel like Harry’s character matched up with the Sundance Kid. While it’s true that in history, he was not known to have killed anyone prior to the Bolivia shootout and therefore may have had some kind moral compass, as a bank and train robber, he obviously had a high disregard for the law and was probably a rather self serving man. So the picture of a man who acts practically as a marriage counsellor to two other characters, puts himself at risk for complete strangers, and is a little bit appalled to see corrupt policemen doesn’t totally line up with that. I guess it’s not totally unbelievable to pass it off as him being an older and changed man, it just seemed a little silly to me.

It does pick up the pace in the second half and though I still wouldn’t call it an action novel, it does manage to pack a lot in and it is very enjoyable if you don’t go into it expecting a Wild West action/thriller. So, if it's not a western, not a thriller, not a mystery, and not a romance, what is it? Just a good story.

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