If you were a boy growing up watching Westerns in the 1960s and 1970s, you either wanted to be Butch Cassidy or the Sundance Kid after Paul Newman and Robert Redford made the turn-of-the-last-century outlaws international legends in Richard Zanuck’s Twentieth Century-Fox film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Without a doubt, this red-headed kid wanted to be Sundance, and never liked to watch the ending of the great film, as Newman and Redford’s mutual fate in a shoot-out with the Bolivian army was freeze-framed into celluloid eternity.
Like tales of Billy the Kid and other Old West legends in which our heroes (or is that anti-heroes?) do not die in a blaze of glory, but instead escape to live out full lives under aliases, Sundance: A Novel (Riverhead Books, $27.95) opens that door for Sundance Kid and Wild Bunch fans. Author and screenwriter David Fuller helps us to imagine, in gritty detail, what if one of the most captivating, and best nicknamed, gunmen of all time lived to ride another day from prison in Wyoming to the streets of New York City.
“He stepped onto a sidewalk in the middle of the island of Manhattan, a man of the West, standing in his boots on the racing, bustling heart of the great eastern city. He stared at the fevered nightmare around him.”
Sundance is a fun, original Old West adventure that provides well-imagined hope about the fate of the charismatic Longbaugh (renamed from Longabaugh, as the author says “to make the character my own”) and Butch Cassidy. Like in nearly every classic Western, the outlaw love story is powerful and has endured in our imaginations for more than a century. Longbaugh’s release from prison, and desperate drive to find his lost love, Etta Place, is complicated. Pinkerton Detective Charlie Siringo tracks the famous outlaw on the streets and alleys of New York’s Chinatown, Little Italy and immigrant tenement neighborhoods. Only Sherlock Holmes could possibly track a man better through the busy, crowded avenues of a city than Siringo. Fuller’s fast-paced prose will harken readers to remember Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective’s maxim, “the game is afoot,” as Longbaugh and Siringo play hide-and-seek to a great climax.
Fuller, who previously wrote the Civil War mystery novel Sweetsmoke, is an expert at research, placing his characters—and his readers—into the gritty reality of New York in 1913. With a tip of the hat to Western authors Glendon Swarthout, Larry McMurtry, Loren Estleman and Clifford Irving—who also have brought historic characters together through novelization—Fuller’s new adventures of the Sundance Kid, Etta Place, Robert Leroy Parker and Charlie Siringo give Old West fans a first-rate horse opera in the streets of Manhattan. Maybe someday the tale will cinematically run as a double-feature with Clint Eastwood’s Coogan’s Bluff. I’m already waiting for the sequel.