The Kid

Few legends of the American Old West are as enduring and elusive as that of William H. Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid. Ron Hansen, who started his career writing literary westerns (Desperadoes), has returned to his roots with a meticulously researched novel that digs into Bonney's life. While Hansen does not answer every question about the Kid's short and violent trajectory, he does reframe Bonney's exploits in an effective and haunting way, providing fresh insight about the man and myth.

The Kid begins with Bonney's birth as Henry McCarty in New York and his family's relocation to New Mexico following his father's death. His mother died when he was 14, and the orphaned boy fell in with the wrong crowd and landed in jail. McCarty escaped to Arizona, worked as a rancher and shot a man before fleeing back to New Mexico, where he changed his name to Bonney. He was a fast-shooting and graceful bantamweight man who charmed women and attracted loyalty from friends, despite a hair-trigger temper and a hair-trigger hand. While many of the Kid's initial crimes involved theft, it was the murder of a mentor during the Lincoln County Wars that pushed Bonney to embrace violence and his life as an outlaw.

Early on, one character asks Billy what he wants from this life; he responds, "To belong. To be liked. To be famous. To be feared." These are haunting words played out over the course of the Kid's violent life and impressive literary afterlife in Hansen's entertaining adventure. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

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