Monday, May 23, 2011

A Pair of Knaves by Lucius Parhelion

A Pair of Knaves Working a ranch is all very well, but there are faster ways to earn a buck when the gold rush is on. Silas Plummer has been choosing his marks and making a profit with his partner, Dr. Aaron "Arid" Gifford, for the past ten years, and they agree it's time to call it quits -- after they unload one last haul of mining shares. But the shares are a hot commodity in more ways than one, and speed is of the essence if the boys are going to realize the cash.

Skedaddling from Cripple Creek to Chicago, Silas and Arid have to honor a scoundrel's agreement with a shady character from their past before they can conclude their business and enjoy retirement. From the wonders of the World's Fair to the seedier delights of Little Cheyenne, there's no end of challenges to keep their wits sharp. And all the while, Silas is wondering: does he really want this partnership to end?
A couple of sharpers, Silas and Arid have spent the last few years transferring a goodly slice of the wealth of a rough and tumble mining town into their own pockets. A high stakes poker game puts a large chunk of several prosperous mines into their pockets, to cuddle with what they already own, and they have to leave town under escort to keep it. Chicago and the man they owe right of first refusal want to take it away from them, too, and civilization proves a bit more dangerous than the wild wild West.

These two plan ahead, so far ahead that they are on the verge of dissolving their lengthy partnership to go their separate ways, when their adventures bring them into contact with Miss Julie -- someone else with a secret and dreams. Silas and Arid have been too good about keeping their own secrets -- neither one is clear that the other finds him appealing, and why not? In the Old West, this sort of thing could get a body killed.

Not that homoeroticism didn't exist -- just read some of the more exuberant passages from "The Virginian" to find prose that puts most e-publishers to shame. But these two find out about each other in the very nick of time.

This reads in the slightly stilted style we associate with Western dime novels, which I found a bit wearing, if in period. The men are quite formal with each other, something that takes on an added flavor when we find out that Arid is part Indian -- this is more respect than he would have expected to get from strangers at the time. (Is someone going to jump all over me for that term? Sorry it's not politically correct, we are talking the language and mores of an historical, okay?) Silas' respect for Arid is one of the great parts; they do acknowledge the racial biases of the time, and then ignore them.

I liked their willingness to guard each other's backs out of more than enlightened self interest -- the friendship goes deeper than they want to admit, and their discovery of more is sweet. That they also make off with a good chunk of boodle -- better yet. Sometimes the con men ought to win. 3.5 marbles

Buy here.

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