CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 10 . . . . November 4, 2011
Ghost Moon is like a classic Western film brought to the pages of a book for teen boys. The hero is James (Jim) Doolen, a young Canadian adventurer in the American frontier. His earlier escapades (leaving home to track down his father in Mexico) are chronicled in Written in Blood, the first in this trilogy. Ghost Moon can be read on its own, but, as a stand-alone, the opening chapter plunges readers into the middle of action and makes them unravel some threads of the past. I actually liked this as a technique, and would have liked it even if there had been no prequel. Ghost Moon is, though, very much a middle book. It has a very transitional feel about it, as if readers are recovering from the trials and tribulations of the initial quest and are just taking a break before the real dramatic action of a third book will begin. Not that Ghost Moon isn't a dramatic book. The number of murders alone makes that description impossible.
Jim is on the road and looking for work when he hooks up with Billy the Kid who promises him a job at a new business. The trouble is that the job is at a new outfitters who is setting up shop to compete with the corrupt Jimmy Dolan who has a stranglehold on all commerce in the area and is not planning on giving that up any time soon. This impasse leads to multiple murders, a siege, a burning house, many gunfights and the eventual death of most of the characters. It's a little formulaic, but it's dramatic and has enough action to engage reluctant readers.
When Jim brings some goods to nearby Fort Staunton, he catches up with Lt. Fowler, someone he'd met in the first book. Fowler asks him to scout out public opinion on a local Apache reservation. Here, Jim observes the conditions and events which will obviously be at the heart of the third instalment. By the end of Ghost Moon, Jim is a scout for the 10th Cavalry.
Jim is a quiet and thoughtful character, in contrast with the wild, hot-headed Billy the Kid. Jim worries that he might become like the amoral Kid. He is forced to deal with the question of vigilante justice and how to right injustices if the law won't do it. Jim's solution is mostly to try to stay out of trouble, but it doesn't work very well for him. He does feel injustice keenly but still believes in the power of a just law.
Ghost Moon is definitely a palatable lesson in both history and the creation of the history, itself. One of the most interesting encounters takes place when Jim meets an old Mexican who fought at the Alamo. Jim is excited to hear first-hand stories of his heroes, Crockett and Bowie, but is forced to rethink his presumptions when the old Mexican describes events very different from those already recorded in the history books. "Heroes and villains are what we make them," he reminds Jim. The novel also makes it clear that the glamorous history of the Old West is nothing like the real, bloody sordid history. Wilson describes almost constant violence, greed, corruption and injustice.
Ghost Moon is a solidly written book, and the history is presented in a palatable form, never rammed down the reader's throat. The descriptions and details are all essential, not just thrown in for show or to convince readers that this is taking place in the past. Wilson delves into the nuances of ideas of justice and the production of history. His characters are believable, although most don't have too much depth. There are no real females characters, but I didn't expect this novel to shatter all the formulas of a boy's adventure story. There is nothing terribly original here – it could easily be a Hollywood script – but the story, pacing and characters are all created with confidence and ease.
Kris Rothstein is a children's book agent and reviewer in Vancouver, BC.
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