Black Powder, White Smoke


By the mid 1880s the old west is dying. But the public still thirsts for crime stories, and Wild West theatricals such as Buffalo Bill’s are very popular. This is the tale of what happens when a journalist and a theatrical entrepreneur try to get a piece of that action.

Honey Boutrille, a black New Orleans businessman, kills a white man who is threatening one of the ladies employed in his establishment. He takes to the river, knowing that the law will not work in his favor. Across the country, Twice Emerson, an outlaw and cold-blooded killer, murders a tong leader, necessitating a quick exit from the San Francisco Bay area. The stories of these two murders are picked up by the newspapers, inspiring two men to pursue the culprits, not for the bounty but for more personal reasons. Ernest Torbert, the journalist (and aspiring novelist), wants to tell Boutrille’s story. Casper Box, the theatrical entrepreneur, seeks Emerson in order to stage an outlaw extravaganza, and make one final stab at hitting the jackpot.

Estleman brings his characters to life amid backdrops that include New Orleans’ seedy French Quarter, San Francisco’s notorious Devil’s Acre, and, finally, the boomtown atmosphere of Denver, Colorado. While the outcome might not be unpredictable, the story is solid and will surely delight readers. The grit and glitz conveyed by the edgy writing and colorful characters can be summed up in two words: Wild West.


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12 of the best stories selected from the 2012 Historical Novel Society Short Story Award




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