The Adventures of Johnny Vermillion
“Most of what follows took place in the West. Not just any West.” So begins the tale of Johnny Vermillion’s theatre troupe, The Prairie Rose Repertory Company, and their adventures in performing – on stage, and in bank robberies – in the Wild West of 1873. When a Pinkerton agent figures out their scheme, he sets an elaborate trap to catch them. And in the course of their escapades, Johnny’s troupe unknowingly robs from an intended target of the dangerous Ace-in-the-Hole gang, who now want revenge on the Prairie Rose players as well.
Estleman is renowned for his westerns – he is a five-time Spur Award-winner – but to call The Adventures of Johnny Vermillion purely a western is unfair and limiting, for this historical romp is much more: a feast of humour, action, drama, and suspense. Johnny Vermillion’s players may be thieves, but they are likable characters who take their acting roles seriously (their playwright also struggles to produce fine, legitimate work in his adaptations as well). I found myself wanting both the Pinkerton agent and the Prairie Rose players to succeed. Estleman has written one of the rip-roaringest stories that I’ve read in a long time. Highly recommended!