- The Lost Outlaw (Jack Lark #8).
- Paul Fraser Collard.
- 448 pages.
- Historical Fiction.
- My Rating: Hell Yeah Book Review.
In the midst of civil war, America stands divided. Jack Lark has faced both armies first hand, but will no longer fight for a cause that isn’t his.
1863, Louisiana. Jack may have left the battlefield behind, but his gun is never far from reach, especially on the long and lonely road to nowhere. Soon, his skill lands him a job, and a new purpose.
Navy Colt in hand, Jack embarks on the dangerous task of escorting a valuable wagon train of cotton down through Texas to Mexico. Working for another man, let alone a man like the volatile Brannigan, isn’t going to be easy. With the cargo under constant attack, and the Deep South’s most infamous outlaws hot on their trail, Jack knows he is living on borrowed time.
And, as they cross the border, Jack soon discovers that the usual rules of war don’t apply. He will have to fight to survive, and this time the battle might prove one he could lose.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Lost Outlaw is the eighth book in the Jack Lark series. I haven’t read any of the previous entries and so, I approached reading it with a sense of trepidation. Some series you can pick up late on and really enjoy even without any prior knowledge of the main character and what has gone before. But, the reversal can also be true and some series are impossible to pick up, enjoy and get into after starting them late. With The Lost Outlaw, the blurb screamed ‘western’ to me. I’ve always enjoyed watching westerns (playing westerns in video games too) and with my interest piqued I decided to give the book a go and I’m glad that I did. My initial apprehension at starting the series late on was misplaced, the book gripped me, was easy to get into and like a man on the gallows, I was hanging on every page.
The Lost Outlaw starts with a Confederate Captain and his troops riding across the aftermath, the carnage and the dead bodies of a wagon train that has been ambushed, captured and taken by bandoleros. The wagon train and its cargo were under the Captain’s protection. Seeking retribution, the Captain tracks down the gang, taking back the wagon train and delivering deadly and swift justice to the bandoleros. The troops rain down death on the bandoleros but, the Captain doesn’t kill them all. Instead, the Confederate troops leave two buried alive to their necks in the ground as a sign, a warning to others who prey on the wagon trains. This opening really set the scene for me. It was graphic, brutal and dark. With vivid imagery created by Collard of the ambush aftermath, the retaliation and the setting where it all takes place.
The story then moves to a dusty small Louisiana town, where, in a bar and eating a warm meal we see a man. There’s an air of mystery to him, he’s been living a life of solitude, avoiding people, keeping himself to himself, a wanderer with no place to go and aimlessly travelling around. He has turned his back on life, living on the fringes of society, the edge of the world. He is a man apart, only his horse for company, he could be the man with no name but, he’s not, he’s Jack Lark. A chance meeting, a random encounter with a couple of strangers in the town leads to an opportunity for Lark. He could have walked away, left the pair to the consequences of their actions but fate is a fickle mistress, he intervenes, steps in and saves them from an outnumbered gunfight. His actions lead to a job offer which he accepts, hired on by the leader of the gang and the wagon master, Brannigan as part of a gang contracted to escort a wagon train full of cotton from Texas to Matamoros, Mexico and then on the return journey with a shipment of ammunition and guns. It is time for Lark to return to the world, to the land of the living and, to once more find a purpose.
The Lost Outlaw is set in 1863 against the backdrop of the American Civil War. It is a dangerous time, a hard land populated by hard men and the only rule is the rule of the gun. The journey of hundreds of miles will be rife with danger, rival gangs, bandoleros, the army and others will all be after the wagon train and its valuable cargo. Suffice to say that there are twists and turns, betrayals, double-crosses and gunfights galore along the way.
Brannigan is ruthless and he uses people. To him, they are objects and when they are broken, of no more use he casts them aside. They aren’t human, they are a tool to be used and nothing more. He lacks any sense of loyalty but those who call him ‘leader’ are loyal to him. As the wagon train travels towards its destination Jack will need to be on his guard, not just from the potential attacks on the wagon train but from within Brannigan’s gang too.
Jack is originally from the East End of London, England. He is many miles and many years away from there now though and he is a veteran who has seen many conflicts from India to the US. He has learnt many lessons from his life. He is a fighter, no longer a soldier or an officer but he will always be a fighter. While you can take the soldier out of the army, you can’t take the soldier out of the person, out of Jack. He is a man who believes in fate, that trusts to it. He is determined, thoughtful and introspective. Events that have happened in his past, shape how he is now. There is a wry sense of humour to Jack and glimpses of anger, arrogance and pride in him too. He is his own man, he’s been through a lot, seen a lot, survived a lot, killed a lot and lost a lot too. There is a depth of character to him and he is an enigmatic main character.
Along with Jack Lark and Brannigan. There are Adam and Kat, the duo from the beginning of the adventure. Vaughan, a plantation agent who isn’t a fighting man but who works for the plantation owner (who has funded the wagon train) and is there at the behest of him. The Confederate Captain Dawson, his troops and Angel Santiago, the feared leader of the Los Angeles de la Muerte or ‘The Angels of Death’ the largest and most notorious gang in Mexico.
Collard is a tremendous storyteller and I felt like I had been transported back in time to 1863. It was like I was experiencing the events and living the story as it played out across the pages. The characters, the battles, the scenery, the setting and the locations all come to life on the pages of The Lost Outlaw. The rain falling, cascading down, the flashes of lightning, the scorching sun, the heat, arid and dry, the dusty air, the sounds of the wagon train, the mules, the horses, the sounds of men fighting, of gunfire, the smell of the gun powder, the dust, grime and grit of the trail. Collard doesn’t shy away from violence, showing the horrors of battle, of the inflicted wounds and there are some grisly and gruesome fight scenes included in The Lost Outlaw. There are also many standout moments and spectacular set-pieces (one on a riverbank where a storm breaks and another, a siege where the few defend against the many) and they are cinematic and heart-pounding. The action throughout is ferocious, the battles and the gunfights, bloody, vivid and visceral.
More often than not I am to be found with either a fantasy book or a thriller in my hands and The Lost Outlaw is somewhat different from what I usually read. However, it turned out to be a revelation as Collard immersed me in his work giving me an entertaining dose of the Old West and I found The Lost Outlaw to be an action-packed, brutal, compelling, fast-paced and gritty western.
Purchase The Lost Outlaw (Jack Lark #8) by Paul Fraser Collard.
Follow The Tattooed Book Geek: