Thomas Cade is a young man without a home. His father sent him away when he was seventeen to avoid a feud with another family in the hill country of Tennessee, and as the novel opens we find Cade working as a hunter for the railroad. When he finds a critically wounded man on the prairie his life changes forever. The man’s name is Sam Killian, and he is a sometime lawman, and sometime gun for hire.
Tom nurses Killian back to health, and in return Killian teaches Cade the trade. He tutors him how to use a pistol, how to judge a man, and how to get himself in and out of fights. They partner up until they settle in the booming town of Walker, Kansas where Thomas Cade finds everything he expects, and whole lot more.
The Outcast is a traditional western. The characters are everything we expect: tough, sensible, mean and—at least in the case of the protagonist—fair, and honorable. There is plenty of gunplay, and the town of Walker is populated with the good and bad of any small town. The businessmen are getting rich off the cattle herds coming north to the railroad. The trail herd cowboys come to town looking for fun, but usually find trouble, there are cardsharps eyeing an easy game, and the townspeople just want a quiet place to raise their children.
I had a difficult time reviewing The Outcast, because it represents the best and worst of the genre all in one package. There were moments when I loved it, but there were also moments when I didn’t even like it. Thomas Cade is an interesting character, but his stoic, dour personality felt oppressive at times. He seemed more alive and real when certain characters—Sam Killian for one—crossed the stage, but none of them stuck around long enough to keep him there. There were two brief sections of the novel that I thought nothing would ever happen again. There was too much dialogue and not nearly enough action. These were the bad points, but there were also good points.
The opening chapter is one of the most well written segments I have read in a western. The scene is so powerful and alive that I could nearly hear the rustle of wind through cornfields; the rough jingle of a cowbell, and feel the oppressive, wet heat of a Tennessee summer. The action, throughout the novel, was well rendered, and the characters were drawn nicely. If the plot had been just a bit tighter The Outlaw would be a serious contender for my list of westerns to remember.
There is good news. The Outcast is advertised as the “first in a new series,” and it felt like the back-story to something really terrific. We saw Thomas Cade grow from a boy to a man. He learned to shoot like a pistoleer, and back a man down without ever touching his gun. While my recommendation for this novel is lukewarm at best, I have hope the second will be a better piece of work.
An additional note: Luke Cypher is a pseudonym for Randy Eickhoff, the author of the Western Heritage winning novel And Not to Yield. The second novel in the series, The Outcast: Red Mesa, is scheduled for release in March 2008.