P.K. Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widows by Caroline Lawrence

P.K. Pinkerton fills yet another niche in detective fiction for middle graders with a high-functioning autistic detective who is half Lakota Sioux/half white. I haven’t read the first two books in this series, but I want to read them both after having enjoyed The Pistol-Packing Widows. There are a few caveats that might discourage some readers:

1) Some reviewers have lambasted the first two books as stereotypical and offensive in their portrayal of Native Americans. I didn’t find this book to be so, but I may not be as sensitive to this issue as other people are.

2) P.K. is supposed to be a devout Methodist Christian, and for the most part he acts like a Christian. However, there is a brief scene in which P.K. consults his “spirit guide” (who turns out to be a worm?). I wish the author hadn’t included that scene since it’s not really integral to the plot or characterization, but there it is.

3) P.K. also talks about and associates with ladies he calls “soiled doves”, a euphemism for prostitutes. He’s tolerant of their profession, if he really understands what it is they do. P.K. is fairly innocent about the world, and he may be oblivious to the true nature of prostitution.

All that stuff aside, I loved this book. P.K. is an engaging character, something of a savant and quite an astute observer, even if he doesn’t always understand what he is observing. In this particular episode in the career of P.K. Pinkerton, private detective, P.K. is observing the Nevada politicians in Carson City as they give out toll road franchises to the highest bidders and negotiate with one another over the possibility of Nevada Territory’s becoming a state. He’s also trying to save his friend Poker Face Jace from the clutches of a “black widow” named Violetta de Baskerville, and in his spare time, he’s helping his new friend Miss Carrie Pixley keep an eye on her beloved, Mr. Sam Clemens. P.K. has a busy life.

There’s a big reveal about three-fourths of the way through the book, and I didn’t see it coming. For those who have read the first two books, I think the cat is already out of the bag. But for me, it was an adjustment to my thinking. Anyway, it’s a fun read with plenty of action and a thoroughly likable young detective. Reading this one not only made me want to read the first two books in this series, but it also made me interested in looking up Ms. Lawrence’s Roman Mysteries series.

The Time It Never Rained by Elmer Kelton

If there was ever a piece of fiction that should be adopted as a manifesto and banner for the conservative/libertarian movement in American politics, it’s not any of that nonsense by Ayn Rand. (I never could get through either of her most famous tomes although I tried . . once . . each.) Elmer Kelton’s The Time It Never Rained is a Western classic, a conservative classic, and a cracking good story. It should be recommended reading for all little conservatives-in-training.

So, in the 1950’s, about the time I was born, West Texas ranchers and farmers endured a seven year drouth. Seven years with little or no rain. Seven years. Charlie Flagg has lived through drought before, and he’s sure he can make through this one. But seven years is a long time, and no one, of course, knows that the drought will last so long or when or even if it will ever be over. Charlie, cantankerous and set in his ways even before the drought begins, only becomes more so as he faces the loss of his cattle, his sheep, his family and friends, and finally most of his land. Still, Charlie never gives up, never gives in to what he believes is wrong.

And one thing Charlie believes is wrong, at least for himself, is accepting government aid and price supports. As it turns out, the government aid offered to the ranchers to help them feed their animals and survive the drought comes with strings attached, and artificial prices confuse the free market so much that the ranchers can’t make a living even when the rains return. Charlie must change, accepting the idea of raising goats in addition to the sheep that have been his mainstay, but he never compromises his principles.

Charlie Flagg isn’t perfect, and the author shows us his faults as well as his strengths. Charlie and his wife have grown apart, mostly because Charlie is the strong, silent type, not much of a communicator (Charlie’s attitude: He told her he loved her when he married her, and he’d be sure to let her know if anything changed.) Charlie is an old-style patron to his Mexican American workers, and he sometimes patronizes them and treats them with the kind of “separate but equal” attitude that was the trademark of the fifties relationship between Anglos and Latin Americans, as we used to call them. Charlie doesn’t hire illegals, but he respects them for their work ethic and their willingness to cross the border to find work. He wishes the government would just leave everybody alone, including the Mexicans who come to work in the United States, and especially including the ranchers who are just trying to make a living raising cattle and sheep and goats.

That’s the typical attitude of the typical West Texan that I knew growing up. I grew up in San Angelo, Mr. Kelton’s hometown. And most people there, at least thirty years ago, would have told you they just wanted the government, state and federal, to leave them alone. Some older men and women I knew were “yellow dog Democrats” and others were newly-coined Republicans, but all of them shared the desire to be left alone to raise their families and do their work without interference or help from the government.

QOTD: How do you respond to adversity or failure? How do you want to see yourself respond to hard times?