Thursday, 21 November 2019
LARRY D. SWEAZY - THE LOST ARE THE LAST TO DIE (2019)
After Texas Ranger Sonny Burton loses his arm in a shootout with Bonnie and Clyde, he is asked by the Rangers to help find an escaped convict, Billy Bunson, who took a pregnant woman hostage. Once he begins his investigation, Sonny suspects there is more to Billy's plan than meets the eye. He suspects it's a plan for Billy to be free of Sonny once and for all. The story unfolds over a period of twenty-five years as Sonny Burton's life as a Texas Ranger intersects with Billy Bunson's life as a simple thief, who then transforms into a ruthless man killer. Sonny uses all of his skill as a lawman to track Billy down, where they face off for one last time.
This is the second in Larry D. Sweazy's Sonny Burton series featuring the retired Texas Ranger.
The first A Thousand Falling Crows was much enjoyed.
Texas, 1934......Sonny gets a call after Billy Bunson escapes from prison taking the warden's wife hostage. Sonny and Billy have previous form together. The novel tracks back and forth in time to encompass Billy's present on the run and Burton's efforts with son Jesse, also a Texas Ranger, to track him down and rescue the hostage, as well as their shared history and Sonny's experiences in the great war.
Texas, 1911.... Billy is an unloved child, his grandmother a powerful matriarch running a stable of girls in whatever town sees fit to entertain them. His mother is part of her entourage, but neither have any time or affection for Billy. On one occasion, he's offered to a punter for a couple of coins and flees before the deal is struck. An action that sees him whipped upon his return. His only friend is the older black man, Jim Rome who works for his grandmother as driver, security, and general jack-of-all-trades. Billy is taught to steal and is tutored fully by Jim, how to run, how to hide, how to plot and scheme and always have an option for escape. Sonny catches Billy stealing a chicken - the first of many encounters over the years.
Billy..... constant upheaval, abandonment, moving towns, an encounter with some racists, Sonny and a Ranger to the rescue, short-lived, a prank, an encounter, a lynching, a murder, a bereavement, a solitary life with limited choices, cunning, intelligence, increasing criminality, prison, planning, plotting, a patsy, ambition and more.
Sonny.......a difficult marriage, a disconnection from family, the trauma of war, an encounter with Bonny and Clyde not without severe consequences, widowhood, amputation, strained family relations, retirement, a continued sense of duty, compassion, strength, intelligence.
I really enjoyed this book. There's a connection between the two main characters, both of whom I really liked. Billy's upbringing leaves him with limited choices. The lack of stability and a firm guiding hand depriving him of a more fulfilling and valuable life. Sonny feels a sense of failure in that he couldn't rescue Billy and lead him down a different path. A mistake by the authorities which results in Jim Rose's death finally fractures any possibility of early redemption for Billy. Sonny's role in the matter ignites a slow-burning flame of revenge in Billy's heart.
I enjoyed the flipping back and forth in time, discovering more about both main characters, from their shared encounters and other events. At some point Billy's ruthlessness reveals itself and I kind of stopped feeling too much sympathy for him. Once he's out of prison, there's a vindictive and vicious streak revealed and plenty of blood is spilled. There's an inevitability about the impending final collision between Sonny and Billy. Sonny during the course of the book, has found something he never really had before.... a widowed landlady, a sense of companionship, romance, a shared tenderness - call it love..... as well as forging a closer bond to his son. The stakes are much higher when he has more to lose.
Fantastic setting and sense of place throughout the novel, whether in a war field in France, on a horse on a Texan trail or driving a truck one-handed plus an artificial hook. The changes in the ages and the societal shift from the reliance on the horse to an automobile add another layer of authenticity to the story.
Great writing, great plot and story-telling. Memorable characters. Satisfying outcome. I'm hoping there will be a third outing with Sonny Burton in the future.
4.5 from 5
In addition to A Thousand Falling Crows, I've enjoyed a couple of Sweazy's Marjorie Trumaine books - See Also Murder, See Also Deception and the standalone novel Where I Can See You
Read - November, 2019
Published - 2019 - just yesterday
Page count - 332
Source - review copy received from author
Format - paperback ARC