Rating: 2.75 stars out of 5
Dime novelist Benedict Bright has come out west to meet the man he has made famous in his dime novels, Arizona Marshal Evan Teague. But the real man and the actual American west are very different from the popular stories he has written, stories that the Marshal has nothing but distain for. When Benedict convinces the Marshal that he wants his next book to be authentic, Evan Teague begins Benedict’s education about life, not just surviving in the wild west but about his sexuality as well. Nothing is like Benedict imagined it would be especially Evan Teague. The longer Benedict stays in Arizona, the more he changes, including falling for the man he writes about. When his education is over, will Evan continue to be a part of his life or will the Marshal break his heart?
I am a long time fan of western fiction, starting with the outstanding Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. So I am always excited to come across a new story set in the old west. Dime Novel refers to those stories that were both cheaply made and cheaply sold. Known as Penny Dreadfuls in England, as the format crossed the Atlantic the price was raised to a dime, hence the name dime novel. They were overly dramatic ( think soap opera) stories with covers to match. While other genres appeared in dime novels (most notably the detective genre), it is the westerns that are the most fondly remembered.
The first dime novel was published in 1860 and flourished well into the early 1900’s. So it works well that Dale Chase sets his story about the adventures of a dime novelist in Arizona 1897, just as the dime novel was at its height of popularity. But writing historical fiction comes with pitfalls not found in contemporary fiction and Dale Chase walked into most of them.
The story is told from Benedict’s pov, one that seems to veer from the vernacular of the late 1800’s to that of current phraseology. Benedict will converse in courteous, polite tones one would expect from an “easterner”of the times, then drop into sexual language that could be found on Grindr. Phrases like “sob sister” also pop up in Benedict’s dialog, however, that term did not appear in the American lexicon until 1912, years after 1897. And with the dialog fluctuating between centuries, I was not surprised to find the behavior of the main characters follow that pattern as well.
Would a well known U.S. Marshal sexually accost a stranger almost immediately upon their arrival in town? Especially if that stranger just happened to be a novelist from the East? I am thinking no. Actions like that would get them hanged, especially the rough sex that occurred in “the common two-story wooden boarding house” where the Marshal made his home, one that had “an atmosphere of cigar smoke and cooking grease”. Those structures were notoriously flimsy with thin walls perfect for eavesdropping. So a well known marshal takes the eastern novelist past the “heavy set woman” who oversees that establishment up the stair for a good fucking? No, I think not. Not without a hanging party appearing shortly thereafter. Any sexual same sex relations would have been circumspect at best with hidden signals and masked intentions.Plus cigars were expensive and if you could afford a cigar then you could afford to live in a boarding house that didn’t reek of rancid oil .
With the dialog and character actions out of sync for that historical time period, the story is lost amidst glaring inaccuracies and inconsistent characterization. The characters of Benedict and Evan never solidified into real human beings as their actions and interactions seem both “out of character” given social mores of the times and of the personas created for them by Chase. And as the characters lacked substance than so did any romance that happened between them.
There are many outstanding western novels available to read. Among m/m authors who write great historical fiction of the American West, I count those novels of Lucius Parhelion, Shelter Somerset or Barry Brennessel. All of those authors brought the American west to life with accuracy towards characters and time period. Run and grab up one of their stories and give this one a pass.
Cover art by Wilde City Press. No artist is credited with this cover. The design would have been fine in another story, perhaps a modern western. However, given that the title and plot is formed around a dime novelist, should there have been an attempt to model the cover after a typical dime novel. What a missed opportunity. Here is an example: