Billy (the Kid): A Novel

Written by Peter Meech
Review by G. J. Berger

In 1881, Sheriff Pat Garrett shot young Billy the Kid dead. Or did he? Set fifty-one years later in Pueblo, Colorado, this story finds Billy living the comfortable life of a retired dentist. He marks time researching everything written or filmed about him as he pens an autobiography. It will debunk all the false rumors about his outlaw life and supposed death. He even journeys to an auction in Denver, where he bids on Billy the Kid’s special rifle. At one point, Billy says that all he’s ever been is a dentist from New York. He soon denies that and goes on to recount or do things that only the real Kid would know or do.

Prohibition is in full swing with its speakeasies, brawls, and killings. The town sheriff looks the other way so long as he gets appropriate payoffs. Some old friends of Billy come to Pueblo with plans to build a new establishment competing against the town’s up and running bar and dance hall. The competition between the rivals quickly gets ugly and takes Billy away from his writing. Grace, widow of the town’s former sheriff, has her eyes on Billy too.

Meech honors the time and place. Readers come away hearing and feeling Billy’s trusty Model T Ford, the hot dusty air, and a plague of grasshoppers. Woven in are dreams, apparitions, and flashbacks. As with the main mystery—is this the Kid or an obsessed retired dentist—readers are often not sure whether a flashback is real or just an old man’s musings about what might have happened. Meech uses no dialogue quotation marks and spare dialogue tags, but that too adds to the eeriness of this engaging alternative history.