Rondo Landon wanted to grow up, own a ranch, and “break broncs”; instead, he became an outlaw. The why and the how of his life as a thieving murdering outlaw are the basis of the Tell Cotton’s debut novel, “Confessions of a Gunfighter.”
I loved this book because it didn’t feel like it was trying to be something it wasn’t meant to be; it was one of those books where everything seemed so natural. The characters felt genuine, the language was appropriate and the plot was plausible. It felt like a memoir more than a western fiction and that, I believe, is exactly what Cotton was hoping for when he wrote the book. The prologue opens up with Rondo Landon sitting in a jail cell, injured, trying to piece together how he ended up there. He ends the prologue sitting down with his cousin Yancy and the judge to confess to his crimes.
The story opens with Rondo, as a young boy, living on a farm with his father and his uncle Eliot who was really more like a brother. As a child Rondo recognizes that he has an anger living inside of him that can be uncontrollable. When his uncle Eliot has a fight with another boy from town, Rondo finds and fires a gun for the first time in order to defend his uncle and break up the fight. The town responds harshly and Rondo can’t explain what happened. His father is then called to fight for the South in the Civil War leaving Rondo and Eliot to work the farm. When his father returns from war he presents young Rondo with an ivory-handled Colt which would remain by his side as his weapon of choice for the rest of his life.
After the war, like many Rebel soldiers, Rondo’s family finds themselves facing troubled times. They lose their ranch because they can’t pay the heavy taxes and decide to pack up and move out west. Along the trail they join a wagon train believing that the journey will be safer if they all travel together. I won’t spoil the details of the book but joining this wagon train turned out to be a decision that would haunt Rondo for the rest of his life. As the story unfolds Rondo provides glimpses into his life, his fears, and the motivation behind his behavior. Was he truly a thieving murderous gunfighter or was he simply a displaced rancher who had learned he had to kill to survive? Is Rondo really a villain or is he a victim of circumstance? Did he have a choice in who he would become or was he forced into his lifestyle? There are moments when you might even sympathize with this murdering western criminal. After all, he was such a child when the tragedies started and with no mother or moral figure to guide him, what is a young boy to do?
There is violence in the story however it is a necessary violence required to define the character and the circumstances that shaped his life. It is not graphic or gory which I appreciate as I don’t read books for graphic bloody violent details. There is also no erotic sexual situations or foul language. It’s a book that adults who are interested in western fiction will love and a book that is still appropriate for teenagers who may enjoy the western cowboy lore of the wild west. It’s a book that can, and will, appeal to a mass audience. It’s an enjoyable read and Rondo is a very well-written character. He’s an anti-hero that you will find yourself rooting for even while being forced to acknowledge his criminal lifestyle.