P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man: P.K. Pinkerton, Book 2

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man: P.K. Pinkerton, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Sequel hits stride in weird, appealing Wild West tale.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The Civil War looms large in P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man, and readers will get a sense of its impact on the lives of real people. Besides much accurate period detail, they'll pick up educational tidbits of all sorts as the pages turn, from the Latin phrase Fortes fortuna iuvat ("Fortune favors the brave"), which inspires P.K., to the fact that P.K.'s favorite "detective breakfast" comes from a book by Charles Dickens. There's an interesting discussion of pseudonyms.

Positive Messages

Courage, tenacity, resourcefulness, a love of learning, and the ability to make the best of rapidly changing circumstances all serve P.K. and other characters well.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Surrounded by shifty, violent characters and opportunities to do the wrong thing, P.K. takes the teachings (and Scriptural quotations) of his foster parents to heart. Invited to a saloon on Sunday morning, he instead goes to church, where he finds all the "soiled doves" singing in the choir. He regards the quest for truth and justice as a noble calling.


Not as gory as Deadly Desperados, P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man still has plenty of violence, from the murder P.K.'s trying to solve to ongoing clashes among local gunslingers. Several characters meet violent ends, some being shot and others crushed by wagons, and P.K. describes their bodies. P.K. tries to keep the promise he made to his dying foster mom that he'd never kill a man. His adult friend Poker Face Jace recalls occasions when he's killed men in wartime, and the Civil War's repercussions affect many characters.


Although the "soiled doves" (prostitutes) who first appeared in Book 1 are essential to the story here, as P.K. befriends many of them while searching for the murderer of another, Book 2 has less nudge-nudge-wink-wink about their activities and more development of them as nuanced characters. P.K., in male and female costume, is pursued by girls and boys who want to kiss him, but the kisses he actually receives are gestures of thanks from people he's helped. A scene of slapstick gunplay involving P.K. in a bathtub furthers questions about P.K.'s true gender.


A Bible-quoting kid of the 19th century, P.K. uses no profanity and censors it when writing down the swearing of others, including "h-ll!" and "dam" or "d-mn." A recurring joke involves wordplay on "pee"/"pea." A crucial conversation takes place through the wall of a privy.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Although there's less explicit substance abuse than in the first book (for example, no scenes of women passed out in opium dens), adult characters drink, often to excess, and smoke. P.K. does neither, but he has a tobacco collection that's crucial to solving the murder.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man is the second volume in Caroline Lawrence's mystery series set in Civil War-era Virginia City, Nev. Twelve-year-old autistic hero/narrator P.K. Pinkerton ("I may be half Lakota but I am one hundred percent Methodist") gets his (or possibly her) first case as a detective, as 10-year-old lady's maid Martha hires him to solve the murder of her late mistress, the prostitute Short Sally, before the murderer finds and kills her, too. As in The Case of the Deadly Desperados, P.K.'s soon fleeing bad guys, donning multiple disguises, and chatting with such colorful characters as young Sam Clemens (who would become author Mark Twain), the local madam and her girls, the new minister in town, and an unusual horse in his quest for the truth. The second volume tones down some of Book 1's violence and gore in favor of developing the characters and getting on with the story, but there's still Wild West-style drunkenness, gambling, and mayhem, with untimely deaths by gunplay or accident. A recent catastrophic battle of the Civil War plays a crucial role. There's no profanity (following the conventions of the day, P.K. describes adults as exclaiming "h-ll!"). Both boys and girls still want to kiss P.K., but the kisses he receives come from gratitude, not romance. The book includes a scene of a minstrel show.

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What's the story?

Days after the events of The Case of the Deadly Desperados, 12-year-old newly minted detective P.K. Pinkerton gets his first client: Martha, a 10-year-old who may be a runaway slave but who wants him to solve the murder of her late mistress, the "soiled dove" (prostitute) Short Sally, before the murderer comes after Martha. P.K.'s soon on the case, sorting through possible suspects and interviewing colorful local characters, all the while dodging outlaws, boys and girls with kissing on their minds, and the local matron, who thinks he should be in school.

Is it any good?

The book's protagonist and his narrative voice are true originals that will appeal to kids and adults alike. " 'I am not in the Kissing Business,' I said. 'I am in the Detective Business. Do you have a Mystery for me to solve?' " Less lurid than Deadly Desperados, P.K. PINKERTON AND THE PETRIFIED MAN still includes, along with a wealth of vocabulary and historical detail, questionable characters and adult issues from prostitution to slavery. Drunkenness and multiple murders also figure in the tale, so parents might want to read this first to see if it's for their kids.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Civil War and how it affects life on the other side of the country. Do you know other stories about characters who fled West to avoid the conflict? What happened to them?

  • Books, movies, and TV shows set in the Wild West used to be more common than they are now. Yet the P.K. Pinkerton series is quite popular. What's fun about stories of kids in the 1800s? What's the appeal of historical fiction?

  • What do you know about minstrel shows, such as the one in this story? Why do you think they fell out of favor?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history and mystery

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