In the 1870s, thieves, scalp hunters, and other thrill-seekers covered the Mexican desert with blood. John Wilson’s latest novel incorporates all of these figures in a fast-paced western adventure that ropes in subjects of prejudice, race, and death.
Sixteen-year-old Jim Doolen leaves his B.C. home to search for his long-lost father in Mexico. He soon encounters the harsher side of the Wild West, and very nearly gets himself shot. Luckily, Jim, who seems emotionally mature for his age, quickly learns to think on his feet.
Wilson doesn’t waste time on extensive character development, focusing instead on building an intriguing plot and a detailed portrait of Jim’s environment. We learn how to saddle a horse, travel in the desert, and load a revolver. There are references to the gold rush, B.C.’s incorporation into Canada, the publication of Moby-Dick, and other landmark events of the 19th century. These details are dropped casually, as if Jim were merely mentioning all this as part of a friendly conversation with the reader.
Written in Blood does not purport to explain North American history. Rather, it encourages further reading to discover the true stories behind Wilson’s fiction. While the book offers more death than some parents may like (Jim must kill several men to survive), and the headlong, present-tense narration can get distracting, it’s nonetheless a captivating and engrossing read.