Thursday, November 15, 2007
Dead or Alive
This book has merits for a lot of reasons; chief among them (for me) is that since I'm unacquainted with the details of Harry Tracy's tale I was surprised at the ending. Gulick doesn't give anything away in earlier chapters; he lets the reader know what happens only at the point of the narrative when it happens. No value judgements about not being surprised at what awaits Tracy.
It's interesting I think this is one of the better prison escape tales that I've read. Mainly because there isn't an attempt to explain the why. There no exhausting analysis about who could have provided the guns for the escape. No onerous details about Tracy and Merril's associates outside of the Oregon pen or the conditions inside the penitentiary. A good tale. I think what makes the story surprising is that the crimes that Tracy was convicted for gave no indication that he would be capable of eluding a posse for months. He seems more like a bully than a professional thief. Definitely, not a yegg. He stole yes, but with a senseless brutality that if he hadn't been able to escape from the pen and actively dodge capture for so long he could have been dismissed as unintelligent.
Another thing that makes this story interesting is that this occurs during a time when the American West is moving into the modern age but it's not quite there. It's 1902, men are traveling by horse and buggy. But there are electric cars and telephones. This is the twilight for the old fashioned badman and the civilian posse. It's also great to see how intrusive the media could be even in 1902 to a criminal investigation and how even then people could have a dreadful awe for a man who kills 7 people in the pursuit of his freedom and escapes one trap after another. Sometimes it's not clear who's the fox or whose the hound. It's not a tale that is going to end well.