There are two schools of thought when it comes to just how wild the Wild West was back in the post-Civil War days. Some folks claim it wasn’t as lawless as Sam Peckinpah would have it, while others cling to the notion that it really was as bad as folks said it was. In The Outcasts, Kathleen Kent—known previously for historical novels set in colonial New England—chooses the latter point of view, and then some.

Nate is a young Texas policeman who’s taken the job to get some money for his hardscrabble farm back in Oklahoma, where he lives with his wife and baby girl. He falls in with two veteran rangers, Deerling and Dr. Tom, who are on the hunt for a serial murderer named McGill. Dr. Tom is a bit older than Nate, and a voluble spinner of yarns. Deerling, on the other hand, is old enough to be the father of both men. Taciturn, with one of those adamantine moral codes, he would have been perfectly played by John Wayne.

A parallel story concerns a young woman named Lucinda, whom we first meet escaping a brothel to join up with her lover. He, of course, is the vicious killer the rangers are searching for. Slowly, it dawns on the reader that she’s almost as much of a psychopath as McGill. But the operative word is “almost.” Lucinda is capable of love, even if her love expresses itself in some deeply twisted ways. Will it be her downfall? Will it be McGill’s?

Kent’s minor characters are equally memorable, from the people Lucinda lives among while she pretends to be a schoolmarm, to the young boy who facilitates the last showdown. The dialogue, particularly between the rangers, has an almost Biblical cadence. Kent’s descriptions of landscape, weather and rough justice are stunning. Best of all, she keeps you guessing about the fate of these compelling characters.

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