Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Outcasts.
Author Kathleen Kent leaves the familiar territory of Puritan New England (The Heretic’s Daughter, The Traitor’s Wife), proving her skill as an author of historical fiction and observer of human nature no matter the locale of her novels. Set in the Wild-West atmosphere of post-Civil War Texas, Kent peoples her tale with memorable characters, especially ex-veteran and newly-minted Texas lawman Nate Cannon and prostitute Lucinda Carter, partner to a notorious killer who has left victims all across the state. As different as their respective backgrounds, Nate and Lucinda are on a certain collision path born of their connection to killer Bill McGill: “Most things had been placed in the world either to assist in a man’s journey to his better self or to tempt him away from it.”
We first meet Nate as he joins two older Texas rangers on McGill’s trail. Captain George Deerling and “Doctor” Tom Goddard are both determined to track their prey until the end, a long and arduous journey only now finally coming to fruition. As a new lawman, Nate is still untested in the ways of the road and the harsh decisions that must be made along the way. Deerling expects Nate to adjust his moral compass and embrace the pragmatism to accomplish the task at hand. Blind obedience does not come easily to Nate, who has a few uncomfortable moments with Deerling. Goddard serves to temper the relationship between the old partner and the new—an uneasy peace at times, but Nate comes to respect both lawmen and their dedication, their unwavering commitment to end McGill’s reign of terror.
While Nate matures through the rigors of the journey with the lushly mustachioed Deerling and Goddard, Lucinda Carter has other things on her mind. Creeping from a brothel in Fort Worth with a pistol and stolen money in her carpetbag, all Lucinda can think about is making her way to Middle Bayou on the Gulf Coast. McGill has planned to meet her there and carry out the rest of an elaborate plan that will secure their fortune for the future: recovering the secret treasure of pirate Jean Lafitte. Lucinda trusts Bill with her life and wants only to please him. He is the only man who has made her feel secure after having been abandoned by her father and left to the mercy of a hostile world. Blinded to Bill’s flaws, Lucinda blots out every scruple in blind loyalty.
Like the author’s New England novels, this one is steeped in the particulars of time and place. Post-Civil War chaos has left many lives in flux, starting over after great losses, a land of opportunity for such as the conscienceless McGill. Each event depicted has the ring of accuracy, whether the disposition of inconvenient prisoners meant by law to be hanged, a deadly ambush at a campsite in the dark of night, Lucinda’s degradation at the hands of a client in a new bordello or Nate’s recalcitrance to commit murder without just cause.
Filling them with violence, retribution, treachery and uncommon loyalty, Kent inhabits her characters, their commitments and their humanity, from Nate’s yearning for his wife and child in Oklahoma to Lucinda’s sly revenge on a young beauty who catches McGill’s eye. From endless, dusty roads to the frantic plunge of a horse from a ferry into the swirling water, from a New Orleans saloon teeming with opportunists to a shell-shocked soldier confined to a wheelchair at Middle Bayou, Kent captures the essence of Texas at a turning point, the confluence of good and evil and the final impulsive act that ends the killings, a temporary peace with an uncertain future. Nate and Lucinda stand side by side yet worlds apart.