The Lost Outlaw
© 2019 Paul Fraser Collard
For the better part of a year, Jack Lark has been drifting across the war-worn South, working small jobs as he needs and generally avoiding society. For most of his adult life, he’s been a soldier, albeit one sometimes for hire — having served in the French Foreign Legion, as well as foreign powers the world over, like an Indian prince. Most recently he came to the United States to deliver a letter for a fallen friend, and found his homeland’s daughter country engaged in its own fracas, with its bitter feud already nearing three years old. The North’s naval blockade of Southern trade has created something of an opportunity for Jack, though, a job helping to escort a wagon train of cotton worth its weight in gold to the Mexican town of Matamoros. Standing between him and a year’s fortune are the Texas cavalry, which has a tendency to engage in independent taxation of trade routes; rival smugglers, who want a monopoly; Mexican bandits; and the French army, presently attempting to conquer Mexico to make the Empire gran again. It’s….going to be a bloodbath, full of treachery and deceit across a wind-whipped sun-baked landscape.
The Lost Outlaw is ninth in the Jack Lark series, and it’s…darker than ever, with an already thoroughly dispirited Jack being constantly betrayed and put in danger, and surviving through wit, luck, and the occasional act of honor made by someone who isn’t him. These are vanishingly rare because the trope of the lawless, bloody west is being delivered to full effect here, with Jack embroiled in one desperate grapple after another. Although I’ve enjoyed this series enormously so far, and was especially drawn to this one because of the setting, here the constant stream of treachery, near-death, and by-the-skin-of-his-teeth salvation wore me out, frankly. I was relieved when Collard introduced some characters who weren’t total scumbags. The book had its moments, though; Jack mentoring a young man in desperate straits, and the constant comedy provided by Jack wandering through southern Texas and Mexico and asking his chums if they had any tea.
Unrelated, but because I had the song lodged in my head the entire time I was reading this: