Let me just say that this review has all sorts of tangles to it.
I’ve reviewed the Casca series in total recently (HERE). I really liked them, not for their literary sake, but just for the blunt idea of the thing (an eternal mercenary that fights in every battle across history). I’d read up to #22 where I’d finally stopped, but mentioned they were up to #37.
So at Oasis 25 (a scifi convention I attended as a dealer), my booth was right next to Michael Goodwin’s, who’s written two of these himself. It was one of those bookish-small-world moments, when you realized you have a link with someone else. Told him I’d read a bunch of these and enjoyed them, and he was gracious enough to hand me a signed copy of one of his contributions to the franchise, Casca the Outlaw, #33.
Which means I’m reviewing a book of a guy I really like. Which complicates things. Like, I’m not going to be nearly as snarky as I usually am, because Goodwin could probably kick my ass.
Actually, I did like this addition to the series. In this episode, we find out what Casca’s been doing in the American west, namely going after that Confederate gold (which comes a close second to Nazi gold). It”s over in Mexico, don’t you know, and all Casca needs to do is to put together a team and cross the border and get it.But there are powerful Mexican nobles to deal with, as well as a tribe of renegade Indians. And let’s not forget the domestic threat of a blunt US army commander, peeved at the loss of one of his Gatling guns. And his untrustworthy backers, Thick and Thin (or whatever they are called), and their backup plan, a huge African mercenary.
But Casca’s some pretty good cards himself. He’s hooked up with a wandering Japanese samurai (who I liked). And an aging Mexican knife-fighter. And there’s that Gatling gun we mentioned. And even Billy the Kid (who want’s to kill Casca for some unfinished business from Appomattox Court House, so maybe he’s on the debit side of this sheet, too). So, lots of competing interests, and Casca is right in the middle.
There was a lot I liked, in that flat, practical sense of a meat-n-potatoes novel. The Samurai character was as likable and deadly as you would expect (has anyone ever written about a below-average samurai?). And I really liked the critical woman lead in this, the ever-bathing redhead. She had been involved with that mission gold shipment, and captive of those Indians mentioned two paragraphs up, so that’s how we know about it in the first place. After escaping from them, she ended up working in a San Francisco knocking shop (where one of the two investors, Thick or Thin (though there is some confusion in the novel specifically as to which) meets her (not quite a pun here). But I really liked this character because she’s always bathing. Casca first encounters her under the funnel of a railroad water tank. And she’s got a tub in her hotel room, which she is always in. And there is that stop at every stream to bathe. Just as Casca is the eternal mercenary, she’s the eternal bather. And I like that – its a nice comment of a woman who as has been so abused by men that she simply can’t quite get the scent of them off her. It’s a very good character device and I kept hoping that Goodwin wouldn’t spoil the fun by coming out and explaining it. But no, he showed, didn’t tell, so points to him.
So I enjoyed it. It’s just good clean (smirk) fun.
A couple of things I’d wished – Casca’s special powers (that of his massive experience and his healing abilities (heck, he can’t be killed, not for long)) didn’t factor in. This was really a western about a guy who wanted gold and was carefully watching over his shoulder, and, oh, minor point – was cursed by Christ for stabbing him on the cross. It really didn’t factor in. And that’s a bit of the old Casca I missed.
But the big eye-strainer was the formatting – the tab stops were nothing short of amazing; they wandered like a drunk on a wobbly board sidewalk. You’d see two-space tabs, four-space tabs, and six-space tabs, all in adjacent paragraphs, all down the length of a page. I’m not sure if this was a going-to-press thing, but it really pulled at my eyeball nerves.
But I like Michael, and I like Casca, and so I liked this book. No, really, it’s a fun little read.