There of my friends have written good new books about the southwest recently. I hope to have more to say about them later; I thought you should at least know they existed.
From Dennis Michael McCarthy, a novelist, biologist, and lawyer, comes the best treatment of Billy the Kid I’ve known in a long time. It is lean, understated, and written from the heart of a New Mexican.
But there’s more. Dennis Michael reminded me our books share almost more than coincidence can explain. We are roughly same age, wrote our books , which have about the same number of ;pages, at the same time, have outlaws, killer grizzlies, dead dogs, mysterious priests, and perhaps a bit of Catholic sensibility. And we never talked about the books, which seems amazing now!
Boh of us are deeply rooted in New Mexico, without which you really can’t understand the Kid. I believe that Dennis Michael and his wife used to attend Mass at the Penitente church in Santa Fe,which suggests they know a little more about their New Mexico than the usual immigrants.
I think we two old Catholic schoolboys should have a signing together and do a standup comedy routine. Come to think of it, this whole group consists of old Catholic schoolboys!
Jonathan Hanson’s book , Trail of the Jaguar, is completely different. Our scholarly naturalist gives us a balls-to-the-wall thriller, with likable strong characters up against real evil, chasing a drug lord who employs, among other things, man-eating jaguars. Despite its breakneck pace, the whole thing is informed by his knowledge of the Sonoran desert ecosystem where he grew up and has spent his whole life, apart from forays to places like Africa with his wife and life partner Roseann., who is every bit as adventurous and accomplished as he is .When such creatures as western diomondbacks play parts in the plot, it is reassuring to know they are acting like snakes rather than plot devices.
We do kid him about his attention to detail sometimes. Yes, “Shoptalk is lyrical” [McGuane]. But sometimes I fear Jonathan might give me the genus of every mouse on an island his hero was escaping to.
Tom Russell has also written a novel, Against the Blood. In this case it’s a gritty but good -hearted ramble through the bars and clubs of the legendary Southwest in the company of an old movie cowboy and his friend, an old movie Indian. (Nobody can do old movie stuff quite like Tom, who grew up in Venice, CA, virtually on the set of Welles” “Touch of Evil)) . At the end you lwill have earned the origins of every old ballad you ever knew, from “Frankie and Johnnie to “Streets of Laredo”.
Tom has another book out, The Ballad of Western Expressionism. It shows how far the artist has developed from his roots into a unique and wonderful western painter. I would own any number of these, from his “Raven Coyote”, a quintessentially New Mexican “roots”” piece , io portraits of Beckett and Roger Bacon. I particularly like that raven, his portrait of my late hero Warren Zevon and his picture of Townes van Zandt (w)ho still looks like John Davila.)