Takedown: Taming John Wesley Hardin – Dale Chase (Lethe Press)

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Lethe Press has recently queered Dracula, Edgar Allan Poe, and Sherlock Holmes, but this technique is nothing new to Western writer Dale Chase. She’s been queering legends of the Old West since her first full-length novel, Wyatt: Doc Holliday’s Account of an Intimate Friendship for Bold Strokes Books. For her second, she turns to the less well-known gunfighter John Wesley Hardin and his stay at the Huntsville Prison in Texas.

The year 1878 sees Hardin’s arrest and incarceration in Huntsville for a twenty-five year stint. Convict Garland Quick is easily smitten with the killer. When they are both assigned to work the wheelwright shop, they begin an affair–regardless of Hardin’s married status and Quick’s present relationship with his cellmate lifer Jim Scanlon. Quick is, of course, drawn into Hardin’s failed escape scheme, but this is only the beginning for the two men as they endure torture, beatings, love, anguish, hope, celebrations, and despair.

Historical accuracy aside–and Chase mentions her disregard of the facts when they get in the way of the story–this is a damn fine yarn. It has everything you need for a terrific prison tale: an evil warden, floggings, bad food, a slipshod prison doctor, and prison sex. Lots of prison sex. And Chase writes sex scenes with a refreshing frankness and clarity, using all senses to achieve her ends. More important are the reasons Chase uses for Hardin and Quick having sex. Sex is used for love, celebration, punishment, vengeance, need, boredom, reassurance, and as a mood barometer. And in many of these encounters, the why is almost as telling as the act itself.

But the sex would be meaningless without wonderful characters. Chase’s Hardin is a confident, able man given to fits of morose depression and intense guilt for having sex with Quick outside his marriage. Not encumbered by matrimony, Quick has fewer obstacles to overcome. However, his relationship with Scanlon makes for some delicious dramatic tension as it breaks up while his affair with Hardin blossoms. Quick also has some great moments as Hardin is poised to win his pardon and leave prison life behind him.

Chase’s Western settings are perfect, with a fine sense of place that gives just enough detail but doesn’t belabor the point. She paints the picture, puts the characters in their places, then gets the hell out of the way as they play their parts. Her material is never overwritten or overwrought, which is most welcome in erotica. So if you’re feeling the chill of winter, you should get a copy of this and bask in the hot, dry dust. And the sweaty sex.

You’ll never want to leave your cell.

©  2014  Jerry L. Wheeler

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