Book Review: Black Hat Jack by Joe R. Lansdale
Nat Love is better known to some as “Deadwood Dick” as he did some fancy shooting in Deadwood, and “Deadwood Nat” just sounds wrong. Nat was a ex-slave, a gunslinger, a soldier, a cowboy and all-round troublemaker. You may have seen those “dime novels” with his nickname on the cover; them Eastern writers cleaned up his language considerable, his behavior some, and worst of all bleached his skin.
But this here story is told in Nat Love’s own words, all about how he and mountain man Black Hat Jack decided to try their hand at buffalo hunting but wound up fighting in the Second Battle of Adobe Flats. Now, this is a thing that really happened and the way Nat tells it is true…mostly. Lyin’, well, that’s just something people do.
Joe R. Lansdale is a noted author of crime, horror and yes, western books. He was a big name in the splatterpunk movement, and his stories often include plenty of gory violence, strong language and assorted bodily fluids. This novella is no exception. It’s part of Mr. Lansdale’s series about “Deadwood Dick.” There have been relatively few stories written about African-Americans in the Old West, certainly disproportionately few in comparison to their actual numbers.
In some ways, this story is very much like the old dime novels, full of fast-paced action, flying lead and a casual relationship to historical fact. Yes, there really was a Second Battle of Adobe Flats that Bat Masterson was present for. And one of the defenders did pull off an amazing shot. After that, the accounts tend to contradict each other, and Mr. Lansdale has put them together to tell the story he likes.
Where the book is unlike a dime novel is the extended coda after the battle, as Nat Love starts a relationship with a young woman he rescued during the fighting. This plays out in a disappointing but entirely realistic manner. It’s surprisingly melancholy for the genre.
In addition to the grisly violence mentioned above, Nat and Jack stumble across the results of torture, described in detail, and there is frequent talk of rape. Period racism is unsurprisingly present, and Nat points out that it’s better out in the lawless West where it’s a man’s achievements that matter, than back East where you have to fit in to society.
The heavy use of obscene language made this book thick going for me; this book is not for children.
For fans of spaghetti westerns ready for a bit of diversity in the protagonists.
Note: The copy I read was an Advance Uncorrected Proof and small changes may have been made in the final product, like fixing a couple of typos.