P.K. Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widows



Autistic kid detective returns in wacky Wild West tale.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Besides learning more about autism as they see the world through P.K.'s eyes, readers will find out details of day-to-day life and political intrigue in territorial Nevada during the Civil War and how the Civil War affected the lives of people and towns on the other side of the country. They'll also pick up lots of local color, survival lore (P.K. falls into quicksand and is stranded in a blizzard), and tantalizing bits of information on everything from period costume to the just-invented shorthand and counting cards in poker.

Positive messages

Strong messages about friendship, perseverance, loyalty, creative thinking, courage -- and the willingness to accept help and learn from wise advice, even when they come from unlikely sources. 

Positive role models

Twelve-year-old P.K. has a lot to deal with, being twice-orphaned, autistic, and often in the sights of some desperado. But, being "half Lakota but one hundred percent Methodist," the young detective has a strong moral compass and is determined to do the right thing, even in the face of conflicting duties. P.K. also is brave and clever and doesn't make the same mistake twice. Although there are many villainous characters up to no good, P.K. also receives help and kindness from an assortment of adults, kids, and spirit guides and discovers that suspected bad guys aren't so evil once you get to know them.


The widows aren't the only ones packing pistols in this adventure: It's the Wild West, and just about everyone is armed. P.K. has multiple guns and knows how to use them, though one of the guns is so puny it does no harm to the villain P.K. fires at. Several violent deaths occur during the story, though P.K. does not witness them. The story begins with P.K. being abducted and thrown in a gunny sack; later, a villain ties the young detective to a log that's about to be cut up at a sawmill.


One of the pistol-packing widows is seen in the bed of one of the adult male characters, who's not in the bed at the time. She also kisses him (and other men) a lot. The legislature's trying to decide whether to legalize divorce, and one of the legislators is anxious to marry his married love interest. Much of P.K.'s regular detective business involves shadowing one of the few women in Nevada on behalf of some smitten suitor. Occasional references to "soiled doves" (prostitutes).


P.K. and other characters occasionally mean "damn!" but P.K. writes it as "d-mn!"

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

It being the Wild West, adult characters drink alcohol and smoke (and chew) tobacco. P.K. sticks to coffee, except in one scene when the disguise involves sipping a fancy drink. A character describes a friend as having drunk himself to death.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that P.K. Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widows, the third installment in Caroline Lawrence's profoundly sweet, seriously offbeat Wild West series about an autistic 12-year-old orphan who turns to detection, sheds light on many ongoing mysteries, including the young master of disguise's actual gender. As this book opens, young P.K. is thrown into a gunny sack and abducted. Before the tale ends, several characters come to violent ends, and others have miraculous escapes. One pistol-packing widow, who seems to have ensnared P.K.'s adult friend, is only 23, but her three previous husbands were murdered. One of the Nevada legislators is described as wanting to legalize divorce because his girlfriend's married. But in this crazy environment, complete with cameo appearances by historic figures, "half Lakota but one hundred percent Methodist" P.K. always tries to do the right thing. 

What's the story?

As P.K. PINKERTON AND THE PISTOL-PACKING WIDOWS opens, the young detective is thrown in a sack and kidnapped by unknown assailants -- only the first of many perils to be encountered in 1862 Nevada. Amid gunplay, "soiled doves," gambling, and natural disaster, P.K. tries to do the right thing -- in this case, keep adult friend Poker Face Jace from falling into the clutches of Violetta de Baskerville, whose husbands have a way of getting killed. Along the way, our hero deals with challenges from autism to puberty and once again receives help and guidance in the strangest of places.

Is it any good?


It's become a hallmark of the P.K. Pinkerton series that author Caroline Lawrence loves to bombard readers with a madcap barrage of historic detail, bizarre plot developments, and slapstick, and P.K. Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widows may be the most successful outing yet. P.K.'s resolute, deadpan delivery -- and attempts to find the truth in a deceptive world -- make the fast-moving plot even more fun, and history buffs will be in heaven at the lively incidental detail (such as the fact that solferino and magenta were the fashionable shades for ladies' dresses). Many peripheral characters, from P.K.'s partner Ping to new pal Barry, come into their own here.

Adult and kid readers will particularly love the pure clarity of P.K.'s insights. After many disguises, P.K. reflects, "I don't feel like a 'he' or a 'she,' I just feel like a 'me.' But boys have more freedom. And better clothes."

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about historical fiction. Do you think stories such as the P.K. Pinkerton saga are a good way to learn about the past? How can you tell the difference between what's real and what's made up?

  • Had you ever heard of shorthand before reading this story? Do you think it might be a useful skill, or has technology made it obsolete?

  • Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) is an ongoing character in this series. Have you read any of his books?

Book details

Author:Caroline Lawrence
Illustrator:Richard Lawrence
Genre:Historical Fiction
Topics:Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Putnam Juvenile
Publication date:March 6, 2014
Number of pages:304
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of P.K. Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widows was written by

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