Chosen as one of the ten best works of fiction for 2008 by The Seattle Times and as a Southwest Book of the Year by the Arizona Historical Society.
Billy the Kid met his celebrated end at the hands of Pat Garrett, his one-time drinking partner turned sheriff, who tracked him down after the bloody jailbreak that made him famous. The crucial event of Billy’s life was the Lincoln County War, a conflict between a ring of Irishmen in control of Lincoln, New Mexico, and a newcomer from England, John Tunstall, who wanted to break their grip on the town. Billy signed on with Tunstall, the conflict spun out of control with Tunstall’s murder, and in a series of revenge killings an obscure gunman who called himself Kid Antrim became Billy the Kid. Lucky Billy is told as a fractured dream of history. Its chronology is scrambled, its points of view keep changing, and its settings are diverse, from New York City tenements in the 1860s to the deeply corrupt towns of central New Mexico in the 1870s and 1880s. Legend instructs us that Billy killed twenty-one men, one for every year of his life; that he stole from the rich cattle barons and gave to the poor; and that he wooed every señorita in the southwest. Legend, of course, is wrong; yet, the facts of William Bonney’s life are equally difficult to determine. Relying on those facts and inventing when they run out, Lucky Billy paints a provocative picture of gunfights, jailbreaks, bawdy behavior and betrayed friendships. Its window into history is language itself, with its blend of Western eloquence and vulgarity. It portrays the Old West on the verge of becoming new and creates a new portrait of an American icon, who emerges as a human being caught in the middle, more lost than cocksure, beloved by his Mexican neighbors, hated by his enemies, and more of a lucky survivor than the cold-blooded killer of myth.
“Billy the Kid rides again in this literary retelling of his legendary and bloody career . . . . Although the novel touches on familiar incidents in Billy’s life, it also hews close to historical research in showing how the war for control of Lincoln County between the Murphy-Dolan Irish merchant ring and upstart English rancher/merchant John Tunstall was a continuation of Anglo-Irish enmity.” ‒ Publishers Weekly
“The literature of Billy the Kid is extensive, but there will always be room for another book on the subject that is as finely written as is Lucky Billy . . . . As Vernon darts in and out of different characters’ consciousnesses, introduces dozens of characters, and skips around in time, Lucky Billy ultimately rewards a reader’s attention, and delivers a convincing, human portrait of the legendary outlaw.” ‒ New West
“A compelling image of the legendary outlaw’s flawed, fascinating character gradually takes shape in the latest from veteran historical novelist Vernon . . . . The novel’s shapely arc efficiently establishes Billy’s exigent and defensive morality: ‘Forget good, I’m after justice . . . All’s I ever did was shoot a few people.’ ” ‒ Kirkus Reviews
“Vernon’s powers of description are formidable. He makes colorful use of vintage argot (‘glutchpipe,’ ‘underskinker’) that he lets you figure out for yourself‒just as he lets you figure out Billy, Garrett, Gov. Lew Wallace (the author of “Ben-Hur,” who appears late in the novel) and others . . . . Here’s a book that casts fresh, disorienting light on a figure and an era lost in the haze of legend.” ‒ The Seattle Times