It begins in the Bernalillo County Detention Center in New Mexico where a mistake is made and inmate Craig Larson is accidentally picked to go to a minimum security prison outside Springer, New Mexico. He’s killed before and gotten away with it. He got caught because he stayed too long in one place and now faces time for his original embezzlement charge and unlawful flight. He should be sent to the super-max prison outside of Santa Fe. Instead, he is loaded into a van as the only prisoner with the lone guard who will also serve as his driver.


The second mistake is made by the driving guard who cuffs him in front for the several hour trip. He then makes another mistake, suffers the brutal consequences and Craig Larson is once again a fugitive from justice. This time, he is going to make sure he never goes back to jail. Envisioning himself as some sort of modern day western outlaw, he goes on a violent rampage across New Mexico and Western Texas with retired Santa Fe Police Chief Kevin Kerney and his son Lieutenant Clayton Istee in pursuit.


What could have been an interesting novel quickly turns into a simplistic action filled violent joy ride. Stereotypes abound through out a novel that has virtually zero character development. While both Kerney and Istee express repeatedly how they have bonded and have so much respect for the man each is, often from the back of a horse, neither character ever has that deep internal monologue moment that would create such an event.  Istee’s heritage is yet again barely given a passing nod as are Kerney and his family’s experiences in London now that Sarah is stationed there on a three year stint as part of her military career.


While it isn’t surprising that Craig Larson is a clichéd stereotype which we as readers have to be treated to experiencing every few pages just like any other novel, it is disappointing to see Kerney and Istee reduced to little more than cardboard cutouts. Opportunities for real dialogue between father and son are frequent, especially during the last third of the novel and are wasted on snappy throw away lines. Taken in another direction, this is a novel that could have had real depth to it. 


Instead, it is a violence filled simplistic clichéd read of an outlaw terrorizing and killing women and men and of the two valiant lawmen , modern day cowboys , who must chase this scum deep into the mountains before delivering gun barrel justice frontier style.


The movie version will no doubt be great. After all, that must be what it was written for because it wasn’t written for readers.


Dead or Alive

Michael McGarrity

Dutton (Penguin Group USA, Inc)

January 2009


287 Pages



This material was provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.


Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

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