Lucky Red

Written by Claudia Cravens
Review by Fiona Alison

Orphan Bridget Shaughnessy is a prostitute in Dodge City, Kansas, in 1877. After burying her Pa out on the plains, she rolls into Dodge with a few dollars, which she blows in two weeks on food and hot water. Back on the street, Lila, joint owner of the Buffalo Queen Saloon, singles her out. The saloon has need of a redhead, and Bridget/Red takes to the life like a duck to water. Anyone would think she has a knack for the work. The bookish Constance, who reads Wuthering Heights to relieve boredom between tricks, befriends her. To keep the law favourable, Red agrees to become sheriff’s deputy Jim Bonnie’s mutual favourite, although mutual is a relative term. Then female bounty-hunter, Spartan Lee, rides into town towing outlaw Ottis Shy. Spartan is part of the Lee brothers’ gang, and the one responsible for capturing Shy, who is guilty of massacre, rape and various and sundry crimes. Spartan is there to see him hanged. Provocative sparks fly between Red and the alluring female gunfighter.

Cravens writes her ultra-feminist old West yarn with unapologetic honesty. The constant racket of cattle, horses, yipping cowboys, and saloon pianos is particularly well-drawn, and the air, filled with dust and smoke, smells of old leather and unwashed bodies. The descriptive metaphors pull no punches, so don’t venture in if your sensibilities are easily bruised. With prose by turns philosophical, meditative, and nostalgic, Cravens draws an original coming-of-age picture, where choices are limited and earning decent money means whoring. Jim Bonnie’s unexpected offer carries with it the winds of change, and Red’s run of luck turns to heartache. With newfound self-determination, will she accept her fate or ride out with the resolute Constance for revenge? If you enjoy raunchy, fast-paced, western romances where the pendulum swings both ways, this novel could be for you!