The Case of the Deadly Desperados is the first in a new series of mystery books from The Roman Mysteries author Caroline Lawrence. It follows P. K. (Pinky) Pinkerton, a twelve year old private eye in the year 1862. This series seems to be ‘The Western Mysteries’ if you’re in the USA, or ‘The P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries’ if you’re in the UK, because apparently our children don’t really know what a western is anymore. Hopefully this series might change that, if the strength of the first book is anything to go by. It’s an exciting, action-packed adventure in which Pinky never seems to be out of danger. All the traditional elements of a western are there, as well as plenty of interesting facts about the real Wild West.
Everything that made The Roman Mysteries series fantastic can be found in this book too – great characters, an exciting non-stop plot, a brilliant sense of setting, fun opportunities to learn more about a fascinating time in history, and an intriguing mystery. The mystery itself, this being the first book in the series, centres around Pinky himself (herself?) and what the desperados want from him/her. The chapters are short and well paced, with a cliffhanger at the end of each one that makes the book impossible to put down.
Pinky is a great (and slightly unusual) main character. First, we don’t really know if he/she is a boy or girl. There are several points in the book in which one or the other is suggested, Pinky seems to be able to pass quite easily as either, and Pinky even uses this gender confusion to his (her?) advantage in order to confuse the bad guy at the end. Pinky claims that he is a boy, and this is the established gender that readers are working with for now, but the matter still seems a bit uncertain to me. Pinky is also half Native American on his mother’s side, and probably autistic, though the latter is never – this being the 19th century – completely confirmed. Pinky faces quite a bit of suspicion for both his ethnicity and his seeming lack of emotions. This is on top of the fact that Pinky is now an orphan (twice over) with no friends in the world and a group of dangerous desperados on his trail. Poor Pinky is chased constantly, double-crossed, and confused. He can never be completely sure who to trust, and the reader is kept in suspense for most of the story.
Pinky has a lot of trouble reading people’s faces in order to tell what they are feeling or if they are lying to him. He also shows very little emotion himself, even in upsetting or frightening situations. This works extremely well in the story, as Pinky’s matter-of-fact way of looking at things and his logical thinking are perfectly suited to the work of a detective. His natural ability to keep a cool head and not panic in dangerous situations is also very helpful in the many scrapes he finds himself in. On the other hand, not being able to read others very well is a big hindrance, and it seems to constantly get Pinky into trouble. Pinky is logical, brave and resourceful, but with a handicap that makes certain things very tough for him; this makes him an interesting character to read about, as well as one who is very easy to sympathise with. The story is told from his point of view, in first person perspective, creating an instantly different feel from The Roman Mysteries series. Pinky’s voice is well written and convincing, and the book is a very fun read.
This is a brilliant start to the new series, and I am looking forward to reading more!