A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that P.K. Pinkerton and the Deadly Desperados is a rip-roaring Wild West mystery that combines lively historical detail with a Monty Python-like sensibility. It's the first installment in a series starring and narrated by 12-year-old detective P.K. Pinkerton in 19th century boom town Virginia City, Nevada. ("What is it about Virginia City?" P.K. wonders. "The people here either want to kill you or kiss you.") Drunks, grifters, cheaters at cards, opium-smoking prostitutes, and violent criminals abound; young reporter Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) is a recurring character. P.K. spends the whole story dodging the deadly desperados who want to kill him, including one called Whittlin' Walt because he slowly carves up his victims while quoting Walt Whitman. Violence is almost constant: There's gunplay galore, a prostitute has her throat cut, P.K.'s birth and foster parents are massacred in separate incidents. The story also includes lots of theft, petty crime, drinking, and drug use (mostly by adults), and racial discrimination. All this is seen through the eyes of P.K., a half-Lakota kid on the autism spectrum, which makes him chronically unable to interpret the intentions of people around him. Like Huck Finn, he's trying to make sense of an insane world, survive, and do the right thing. While our hero normally dresses as a boy, author Caroline Lawrence works hard to confuse the issue of P.K.'s actual gender: a master of disguise, P.K. also makes a very fetching girl, and, depending on the attire of the moment, is pursued by both boys and girls seeking kisses. Parents may want to read the novel first before deciding whether it's right for their particular kid.
- Parents say
- Kids say
Hilarious, with lots of violence ( what can you expect from a Wild West Civil War-era book) and a smattering of gore
What's the story?
On his 12th birthday in 19th-century Nevada, P.K. Pinkerton arrives home to find his foster parents, a Methodist minister and his wife, mutilated and murdered in the kitchen. With her dying breaths, his foster mom warns that the murderers want something P.K.'s Lakota birth mother left him, and will soon return. P.K. flees to Virginia City, home to much sex, drugs, and violence at the height of the Comstock Lode silver mania. There he meets con men, thieves, prostitutes, gamblers, Chinese laundry operators, and assorted other colorful characters, while dodging Whittlin' Walt and the other outlaws who want to murder him.
Is it any good?
This weird, exciting, and funny Wild West mystery isn't for every kid, but will be irresistible to many. Author Caroline Lawrence (born in Bakersfield, California, and now living in London) previously wrote a bestselling mystery series set in ancient Rome that became a BBC TV series, she clearly has a near-gleeful fondness for historical detail and finds plenty of creative ways to present it in P.K. PINKERTON AND THE DEADLY DESPERADOS. She also creates a distinctive character and narrative voice in P.K.
While the historically accurate setting and Lawrence's narrative skill will give readers an unusually vivid, personal -- and memorable -- knowledge of the period, parents will need to decide whether it's appropriate for their kids, as drunkenness, opium addiction, robbery, brawling, racial discrimination, prostitution, and murder are regular features.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why stories about the Wild West have been so popular for more than a century. How do the story, setting, and characters of The Case of the Deadly Desperados compare with other Westerns you know?
P.K. can't tell what people are really thinking from their facial expressions. Do you sometimes have trouble knowing whether someone's telling you the truth or trying to mislead you? What clues can you use to help figure it out?
Why do you think the boomtown atmosphere of Virginia City leads to so much bad behavior? Do you see similar things happening today? Where?
- Author: Caroline Lawrence
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, History, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
- Publication date: February 16, 2012
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 272
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: September 3, 2020
Our editors recommend
For kids who love history
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.