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10 Sep
2014
Posted in: Book Reviews
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Book Review: “Finding Billy Battles” by Ron Yates

Finding Billy BattlesReviewed by Bev Scott

Billy Battles tells such an engaging story that it is easy to forget it is fiction written by someone else.  The author includes real people such as Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Doc Holliday and events like the gun battle at the OK Corral, which contribute to the “reality” of the story.

There are actually three story tellers.   The author Ron Yates introduces us to Ted Sayles, the great grandson of William Fitzroy Raghlan Battles.  Sayles’ grandmother takes Ted to meet his great grandfather at the old soldier’s home in Kansas when he is 12.  Ted Sayles describes his reluctant meeting of the ninety-eight year old veteran of the Spanish American War and how he came to receive a trunk of journals written in “vivid prose” describing his great grandfather’s life as an itinerant journalist.  Sayles, himself a journalist, did not open the trunk and read the journals for thirty eight years after his great grandfather died.  After reviewing the contents of the trunk, Sayles sees as his task blending the journals, letters, photos and recordings with an unfinished autobiography into a compelling narrative of Billy Battles told in his own voice, the third story teller.

This book is the first of a trilogy in which Billy Battles begins by telling us in first person of his young adult life and how it took an unexpected turn, leading him through a series of unforeseen life-threatening events.  Despite these challenges, Billy becomes an established journalist in Denver where he marries and starts a family.  Unfortunately, calamity strikes and the anguish and heartache lead Billy to abandon his responsibilities.

Author Yates acknowledges that he uses the colloquial language he remembers from his own Kansas childhood in an effort to remain true to the vernacular of the time.  This is an admirable effort but it is overwhelming for today’s reader who did not grow up in Kansas.  Words and phrases which add color to the story also detract by being overwhelming to the reader in trying to figure out what is meant by “shin out”, “hog leg”, “sticky rope”, “has the sand to jerk his dewey at the law”, “inside of a hoosegow” and many others.   In addition, some of the big “fifty cent” words Yates uses such as francoteradores or insalubrious seem out of place in this story.

Interspersed with the lively vernacular are brilliant descriptions that carry the reader to the scene or provide vivid images of characters in the story such as this description of Doc Holliday:  “Doc was a strange one.  He had eyes that would chill a side of beef.  They were piercing slate gray and set deep in an ashen face.  The skin was pulled so tight over his high cheekbones that you though a bone might poke through anytime.”

The author very cleverly sets up the reader to go deeper and deeper into the story with hints about what will happen in the future such as, “Had my life not taken a regrettable turn a few weeks later, we might have developed a more romantic liaison” Or, “that kind of legal problem was nothing compared to an incident that was a few weeks away and that would have a momentous impact on both our lives.”  Or simply, “But things were about to change.”

I was hooked as Yates the author and Billy Battles the story teller graphically depict life in the last half of the 19th Century as the West is tamed and Battles wrestles with the unexpected and startling events that change his life.  I didn’t want this book to end.  I am still hooked and ready to read the next book in the trilogy.  I want to know the next surprising turn in Billy Battles life.

Author website: www.ronaldyates.com

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