I’ve always been drawn to romance novels. I don’t necessarily mean love stories, although I certainly have nothing against them. I’m talking about romance as a broader concept, the idea of adventure and drama and mystery and characters that are moved as much by ideals as they are moved by ideas. If someone gets kissed along the way, well, that’s all to the good. Is it any wonder that I found my way to the popular fiction of a century ago – the dime novel?
Dime novels figure prominently in The Last Renegade. Most of the townsfolk in 1880’s Bitter Springs, Wyoming are of the opinion that Nat Church, the titular hero of over twenty novels, is a flesh and blood adventurer. They have good reason to harbor that notion since people like Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok did appear in serialized stories. Like many readers (me included), they want to believe in the Western hero: a man who will right wrongs, stand up for the oppressed, shoot the eye out of a one-eyed jack at ten paces, and save the town. He might even get the girl, although he’d be real gentlemanly about it.
Dime novels, with their lurid covers, violent content, and heroic themes, were choice reading for adolescents, especially boys. Certainly they were more exciting than the moralizing primers of the day, and along with newspaper accounts that read more like fiction, they romanticized life on the frontier to the extent that they might have contributed to the Western movement.
In the tradition of dime novels, fact and fiction rub elbows in The Last Renegade. Nat Church’s murder on his way to Bitter Springs has far reaching consequences for a town held hostage by a tyrannical family, a determined widow who wants justice for her sister’s death, and a stranger on a train who is chosen to serve and protect – not, it seems because of any particular skills – but because of the dime novel he is reading.
Let the adventure begin!
If this blog piques your interest, please leave a comment. I will send a $10 gift card (reader’s choice) to
the winner (drawn from the comments by Petticoats and Pistols) along with a copy of The Last Renegade (if you would like one). Wow. Three parenthetical expressions in one sentence. That might be some kind of record for me.
[This blog was originally published in USA Today online]