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Sin Killer (Berrybender Narratives Series #1)

Sin Killer (Berrybender Narratives Series #1)

3.6 45
by Larry McMurtry

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From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry comes the first leg of an epic journey through the early American frontier, introducing a pioneer family the likes of which you will never forget.

It is 1830, and the Berrybender family -- rich, aristocratic, English, and hopelessly out of place -- is on its way up the Missouri River to


From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry comes the first leg of an epic journey through the early American frontier, introducing a pioneer family the likes of which you will never forget.

It is 1830, and the Berrybender family -- rich, aristocratic, English, and hopelessly out of place -- is on its way up the Missouri River to see the untamed West as it begins to open up. With irascible determination -- and a great deal of outright chaos -- the party experiences both the awesome majesty and brutal savagery of the unexplored land, from buffalo stampedes and natural disasters to Indian raids and encounters with frontiersmen and trappers, explorers, pioneers, and one part-time preacher known as "the Sin Killer." Packed with breathtaking adventure, charming romance, and a sense of humor stretching clear over the horizon, Sin Killer is a truly unique view of the West that could only come from the boundless skill and imagination of Larry McMurtry.

Editorial Reviews

Set in the early 19th century, this historical novel begins a tetralogy that constitutes one of the most ambitious re-creations of the American West. McMurtry, regarded as the master of this genre, intertwines real frontier events and people with fictional characters. The improbable yet doubly fetching romance between a well-mannered Englishwoman and the archetypal western gunman Jim "Sin Killer" Snow helps drive the story.
New York Times
Chicago Tribune
A story as big as the West itself.
Washington Post
A sprawling parody of the frontier encounter....Sin Killer is a zany, episodic ride. With gusto and nonstop ingenuity, McMurtry moves his cast of characters and caricatures steadily upstream.
Few contemporary American novelists have enjoyed more success with book series than Larry McMurtry. From Sonny, Jacy and Duane in The Last Picture Show to Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call in Lonesome Dove, the end of a novel rarely signals the end of the story. McMurtry often returns to his memorable characters, sometimes decades after the fact.

McMurtry's latest offering, Sin Killer, launches an exciting new series, a tetralogy he has dubbed "The Berrybender Narratives," in which we follow a wealthy, bumbling British family—not to mention their various servants and pets—as they make their way through the American frontier. Each book will proceed along a different river, the Missouri in Sin Killer to be followed by the Yellowstone before winding through the Rio Grande and the Brazos.

Plainly, such narrative scope requires compelling characters to sustain interest over four books, and McMurtry has conjured two of his most memorable in Tasmin Berrybender and Jim Snow, a young preacher and Indian fighter (there are no politically correct "Native Americans" in this novel). Tasmin is the oldest of fourteen children, only four of whom have names (the remainder are merely numbered—Brother Seven, Sister Ten—since Lord and Lady Berrybender are far more interested in copulation than parenting). Considering herself "the one competent Berrybender," Tasmin appears to be the only one in the family with the sense to find her place in this new world.

Tasmin seems like a cross between Jane Austen's Emma and one of McMurtry's typically strong-willed females: spirited, saucy and smart, though not quite smart enough to recognizethe limits of her experience. She realizes that America means freedom for her, whereas life in England promised nothing better than subjecting herself to a loveless marriage in exchange for a nobleman's dowry. Her awakening inspires a soaring lyricism from McMurtry:

"Tasmin opened her eyes to a dawn of such brilliance that it seemed the planet itself was being reborn," he writes of her first night spent alone on American soil, away from the "floating Europe" of the steamboat that her parents have commissioned for the long trip west. "When the great molten sun swelled up from the horizon and cast its first light over the vastness of the prairies, Tasmin felt a joy stronger and more pure than any she had yet known." Amid this seeming Eden, Eve soon encounters her Adam, as Tasmin and Jim Snow surprise each other bathing in the Missouri. Tasmin learns that Snow was left orphaned in an Indian attack, then raised by a different tribe, who later traded him to a morally ambiguous preacher, who was killed by a lightning bolt that Snow considered God's punishment. The lightning instilled "the Word" in the religiously fundamentalist Snow, who has become feared among some Indian adversaries as "Sin Killer."

Sin was "a subject Tasmin had never given even a moment's thought to, though growing up in a family of flagrant sinners had given her plenty of opportunity to observe the phenomenon at first hand." Inevitably, Tasmin and Jim find themselves perplexed, frustrated and fascinated by each other, while the people around them seem increasingly cartoonish in their bawdy, drunken, occasionally lethal escapades. This is one of those McMurtry novels in which losing an appendage or even a life can pass for comic relief.

McMurtry fans might remember that his previous novel, 2000's Boone's Lick, was also announced as the first in a series, one that the author has apparently put aside in favor of this. Whereas the epic Lonesome Dove felt finished unto itself, though it subsequently spawned a prequel and a series of sequels, Sin Killer reads like the first episode of a story to be continued. Most of its characters (introduced with a two-page list) are barely more than sketches during the course of these 300 pages, while the style suggests a writer who has yet to find his tone. (Though McMurtry frequently opts for an archaic inversion of sentence structure—"She it was who had insisted..." and "Of the steamer Rocky Mount there was no sign"—he elsewhere writes of a character "puking" and puts the unlikely "ain't" in the mouth of the bookish Tasmin.)

Readers will likely forgive the inconsistencies of this book for the same reason nineteenth-century readers followed the installments of Charles Dickens' novels—to see what happens next. As Tasmin reflects, "The prairie at least offered the hope of surprise," and one suspects that McMurtry has plenty of surprises in store.
—Don McLeese

Publishers Weekly
Part western, part satire of the English class system contrasted with rugged frontier society, the first volume of this proposed tetralogy gets off to a shaky start as McMurtry introduces the randy, bumbling Berrybender clan, a rich but inept aristocratic British family that journeys up the Missouri River to try to capitalize on the land boom of the 1830s. The early romantic subplot shows promise when beautiful but flighty Lady Tasmin Berrybender, temporarily separated from her group, is rescued by Jim Snow, a quiet, religious trapper known as the Sin Killer, both for his piety (I'm hard on sin ) and for his fierce fighting skills. Snow returns Tasmin to the family vessel, and his sudden marriage proposal delights Tasmin, until she discovers that he already has two Indian wives. The other narrative lines aren't nearly as entertaining, as McMurtry veers back and forth between outlining the war between various rival Indian tribes and trying to generate comic sparks with the Berrybenders' ongoing series of pratfalls. He has some brief success in the later chapters when Tasmin defies her pompous father, Lord Berrybender, as he tries to undo the marriage to keep the family bloodline pure, and Jim Snow remains an intriguing figure throughout. But much of the light comedy lands with a thud, and the introduction of a raft of mostly superfluous characters takes the edge off McMurtry's prose and makes the Berrybenders seem silly and inane rather than charming. McMurtry does plant a few promising plot seeds for the ensuing books, but it will take a more focused and genuinely humorous effort the next time out to make this concept work. While the narrative fails to satisfy as a true western, readers should enjoy McMurtry's portrait of the terrain bordering the Missouri River. Future volumes will be set on or beside three other rivers, the Yellowstone, the Rio Grande and the Brazos. Agent, Sarah Chalfant. (May 13) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The Washington Post

A sprawling parody of the frontier encounter....Sin Killer is a zany, episodic ride. With gusto and nonstop ingenuity, McMurtry moves his cast of characters and caricatures steadily upstream.

The New York Times


This is the first in a series, and Book 2 can't come soon enough for me. I was ready for it immediately. This tale of the Old West is filled with quirky characters, rampaging Indians, a willful and winning heroine, gory deaths galore, an overbearing English lord, inappropriate love, and Sin Killer, a white guide and part-time preacher with a thorny personality. McMurtry's rollicking tale is irresistible. Lord Albany Berrybender, rich as Croesus, takes the notion to travel the West and shoot buffalo. Book 1 finds him aboard a steamer on the Missouri with part of his family, a gang of hangers-on, and a parrot named Prince Talleyrand. The parrot is the only one with common sense, it seems, for the party loses members on a regular basis, including Lady Berrybender who falls down a flight of stairs and breaks her neck. His eldest daughter Tasmin gets bored and runs off to explore the prairie, meeting the crusty Jim Snow, the Sin Killer, who from then on keeps rescuing her, mostly from herself. Parody, romance, farce; the novel is a quick read and too funny. I can see John Cleese as Lord Berrybender in the film version. Highly recommended. (The Berrybender Narratives, Book 1). KLIATT Codes: SA;Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Pocket Books, Star, 343p.,
— Janet Julian
Library Journal
McMurtry here begins a planned tetralogy of the adventures of the Berrybender family. The Berrybenders are wealthy members of the British aristocracy. In 1832, they travel up the Missouri River in a luxurious steamboat with a legion of servants, Indian chiefs, a cello-playing mistress, a cook, a tutor, a governess, and a French femme du chambre who manages to fall off the boat, much to the amusement of the Indians. In true McMurtry tradition, disaster strikes in myriad ways, and members of the party are scattered across the Great Plains. At the center of the action is the eldest Berrybender daughter, Tamsin, and her growing love for a mysterious Westerner, the fearsome Indian fighter/preacher known as the Sin Killer. It is hard to describe this work succinctly because there is so much action, but in a nutshell, it is a ship of fools, a slapstick black comedy set against the immense backdrop of the American West. The fabulous Alfred Molina narrates the story, and his facility with voices and accents is simply dazzling. Enthusiastically recommended for all libraries; patrons will eagerly await the next installment.-Barbara Perkins, Irving P.L., TX
Kirkus Reviews
The master of amiable, easygoing westerns (Boone's Luck, 2000, etc.) launches part one of the four-book adventures of a rich, noble, pleasantly debauched English family in the Louisiana Territory. "Sin Killer" is one of the handles by which lanky, handsome, freelance explorer Jim Snow is known. Master of every skill known in 1830s Indian country, Snow is still uncertain how to deal with the stark-nekkid and headstrong daughter of an English lord he encounters when he himself is also stark-nekkid. Each had been bathing in a reach of the Missouri River prior to the cute-meet-he because that's where he bathes, she, Lady Tasmin Berrybender, because she'd gotten muddy after drifting away from the steamboat hired by her ridiculous, philandering, filthy-rich father, Lord Berrybender. Tasmin is ripe for an amorous adventure and keen to get away from the rest of the Berrybenders. Understandably. Life on the steamboat with them would try anyone's nerves. Her mum, Lady Berrybender, is a loud lush, and the Lord is a sort of Squire Western on steroids. He's brought with him on his New World shooting-party an artist, a Polish gamekeeper, French governess, German tutoress, myriad servants, several Indians being returned home after a visit to the White Man's president, and his current mistress, an ambitious cellist. Along also several of Tasmin's quarrelsome younger siblings, so numerous that their names drift into numbers. Tasmin would love to trade all this chaos for high adventure with good-looking Mr. Snow in the America she has romanticized, but first she and Snow need to get past his lack of interest in her ceaseless questions and her indignation over his two wives back in Ute territory. When allwind up frozen in for the winter on the upper Missouri, Lord B. will have lost numerous digits, and several of the party will fall victim to an exceedingly grumpy Russo-Indian woman with spurious ties to the spirit world. Tom Jones in the Wild West. More to come.
From the Publisher
"In this tale of the exploration, and exploitation, of the West, McMurtry is telling us something about our checkered past — and perhaps about our uncertain present."

"Irresistible...full of blood, blunder and myth."
The New York Times

"Sin Killer offers a zany, episodic ride...It is a journey made of pratfalls, floggings, stabbings, bawdy seductions, gruesome deaths and daring rescues."
The Washington Post

Product Details

Pocket Star
Publication date:
Berrybender Narratives Series , #1
Product dimensions:
6.76(w) x 4.26(h) x 0.98(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

In the darkness beyond the great Missouri's shore...

In the darkness beyond the great Missouri's shore at last lay the West, toward which Tasmin and her family, the numerous Berrybenders, had so long been tending. The Kaw, an unimpressive stream, had been passed that afternoon -- Tasmin, Bobbety, Bess, and Mary had come ashore in the pirogue to see the prairies that were said to stretch west for a thousand miles; but in fact they could hardly see anything, having arrived just at dusk. The stars were coming out -- bright, high stars that didn't light the emptiness much, as a full moon might have done. Bess, called Buffum by the family, insisted that she had heard a buffalo cough, while Bobbety claimed to have seen a great fish leap at dusk, some great fish of the Missouri. The three older Berrybenders tramped for a time along the muddy shore, trailed, as usual, by the sinister and uncompromising Mary, aged twelve, whom none of them had invited on the tour. In the last light they all stared at the gray grass and the brown slosh of water; but the great fish of the Missouri did not leap again. Disappointed, the agile Bobbety at once caught a slimy green frog, which he foolishly tried to force down Mary's dress, the predictable result of his actions being that the frog squirmed away while Mary, never one to be trifled with, bit Bobbety's forefinger to the bone, causing him to blubber loudly, to Buffum's great annoyance and Tasmin's quiet contempt. Though Bobbety attempted to give his sister a sharp slap, Mary, like the frog, squirmed away and, for a time, was seen no more.

"It is said that there are no schools anywhere in the American West, in this year of our Lord 1832," Bess declaimed, in her characteristically pompous way. The three of them were attempting to row the pirogue back to the big boat, but in fact their small craft was solidly grounded on the Missouri mud. Bobbety, muttering about lockjaw and gangrene, dropped the only paddle, which floated away.

"Do get it, Tasmin...I'm bleeding...I fear the piranhas will inevitably attack," Bobbety whined; his knowledge of natural history was of the slightest. Tasmin might readily have given him a succinct lecture on the normally benign nature of the piranha, in any case a fish of the Amazon, not the Missouri, but she decided to postpone the lecture and catch the paddle, a thing soon accomplished, the Missouri being distressingly shallow at that point of its long drainage. Tasmin got wet only to her knees.

In her large family, the ancient, multifarious Berrybenders, Tasmin was invariably the one who recovered paddles, righted boats, posted letters, bound up wounds, corrected lessons, dried tears, cuffed the tardy, reproved the wicked, and lectured the ignorant, study having been her passion from her earliest days.

Far out in the center of the broad stream, the steamer Rocky Mount seemed to be as immovable as their humble pirogue -- mired, perhaps, like themselves, in the clinging Missouri mud. Sounds of the evening's carouse were just then wafting across the waves.

Copyright © 2002 by Larry McMurtry

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
The Washington Post A sprawling parody of the frontier encounter....Sin Killer is a zany, episodic ride. With gusto and nonstop ingenuity, McMurtry moves his cast of characters and caricatures steadily upstream.

Chicago Tribune A story as big as the West itself.

The New York Times Irresistible.

Meet the Author

Larry McMurtry is the author of twenty-nine novels, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Lonesome Dove, three memoirs, two collections of essays, and more than thirty screenplays. He lives in Archer City, Texas.

Brief Biography

Archer City, Texas
Date of Birth:
June 3, 1936
Place of Birth:
Wichita Falls, Texas
B.A., North Texas State University, 1958; M.A., Rice University, 1960. Also studied at Stanford University.

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Sin Killer (Berrybender Narratives Series #1) 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 46 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I have read everything Larry Mcmurtry has ever published, even the essays. No one develops characters like he does. I don't want to wait long for the next installment. This book made me laugh outloud at the calamities this selfish, spoiled family encounter. They don't blink at the hardship and death of their relatives and shipmates. I recommend this book to anyone. The only problem is the reading goes too fast and the book ends too soon. Larry, get the lead out and no vacations for a while, please!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sin Killer is the first of four novels in a series detailing the adventures of the rich, aristocratic, and eccentric Berrybender family¿terribly out of place¿traveling up the Missouri River and then across the endless Great Plains toward Santa Fe. The time is the early 1830s, and the American West they have come to see is both magnificant and brutally hostile. The naive English troup encounters numerous memorable characters, such as the trappers Jim Bridger, Tom Fitzpatrick, and Kit Carson, the painter George Catlin, a fearsome Sioux war chief named Partezon, and an assortment of other quirky adventurers. At once epic, comic, and tragic, the Berrybender narrative represents a crucial decade in which the West was both won and lost and when random violence and natural hazards greeted all those who dared venture west of St Louis. At the core of the novels is the love story of beautiful, blunt, brash Tasmin Berrybender and the ferocious frontiersman, Jim Snow. Tasmin is one of McMurtry's most memorable female characters, and her stormy relationship with her wandering husband is part bittersweet romance, part soap opera. McMurtry remains a master storyteller, skillfully mixing fact with fiction and tragedy with comedy. It's interesting to note that the Scotsman, William Drummond Stewart, who meets a grisly end in the second volume, actually returned home (with a small herd of buffalo) in the late 1830s to be laird of his manor. He died in 1871, leaving the family estates to an illegitimate son whose mother was a Dallas saloon keeper. As for Pomp Charbonneau, who for a time is the focus of Tasmin's determined love, in real life he ended his days searching for gold in California, dying at age 61 en route to Montana.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A super star of western adventrue. McMurtry is a wonderful moving writer. The novel is a must read piece of intertainment.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was an excellent read. I've never been a fan of the western's and was quite skeptical when a friend recommended this book. But it reads like a spectacular mix of Mark Twain, Jonathan Irving and Voltaire, all at once it is laugh out loud hilarious, and solemnly stoic with it's matter of fact descriptions of dismemberment, death, and life. My only complaint is the abrupt ending, which as I understand is really not the ending, with 3 other books following the Berrybenders in the wings.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I rushed through this fast-paced story, and I loved every minute! Tasmin is as rich a character as the equally spoiled Scarlet O'Hara, but much more self-aware. I can't wait for the next installment -- I haven't enjoyed McMurtry this much for a while.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked it. It wasn't what I expected but it had rich characters, and an interesting setting. The vocabulary was extensive and sophisticated. I'm looking forward to the next 3 books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Purchased this book before last Christmas and could not seem to get interested. Picked it up again in January and could not put it down until Folly and Glory. I hope this is not the last time McMurty tells a story of the old west.
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NJG More than 1 year ago
This was a hard book for me to get into...once I did it was a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
FreddyJM More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book, and now have purchased the entire series. It's both amusing and yet tragic, as the story unfolds about the Berrybender family and all the characters they encounter.
BAM97702 More than 1 year ago
I was bored quickly and the, unnecessary, overuse of comas left me feeling, more than once, and I can't be alone, annoyed and, on more the. One occasion, turned off...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is loosely based on historical accounts of the struggles of life in the early days of the wilds of America. Insert a big family and their servants of a rather stuffy English semi-royalty, and the mix can be a blast - or tragic. Funny, poignant, interesting, sad - all at once. The characters are easy to like - even the not-so-nice ones. Actual historical characters are involved all throughout the whole series of four books, and it is well worth your time to read all four of them - in order, of course. The only issue is that while a lot of the characters really lived in the right times in the right places, they didn't really do almost all the things portrayed in the books. Putting the facts aside, it seems that if events happened a bit different, it is believable that the real characters might have done what the book characters did. I heartily recommend this series. Get them all, read them, digest the lifes and times, and go back and re-read them. In fact, I have yet to read a book by Larry McMurtry that I did not enjoy completely.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As soon as i finished the last page of the last novel, i started sin killer again immediately. It was such a hard world to leave behind, i wasnt ready. Now, every 5 years or so, i can read them again (thanks to a poor memory!) Strongly recommended for any age, any sex, any one who loves fiction OR non-fiction, and a great zeal.for.life and.advemture as well as strong character.stories.
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AdrianasBiggestFan More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love this series by McMurtry introducing us to the eccentric, over-the-top Berrybender Clan! What could be better than intwining real life American West heroes and characters with the fantastic detailing of this amazing family! The adventures end to soon with the end of the series! Come on we're waiting for more!
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atzbech More than 1 year ago
This book is a wonderful read. So interesting that I was astonished to find I was reading the last page! Can't wait to order the next book in this series. Yes, it's different from Lonesome Dove which was an excellent novel, but Sin Killer is a great story about the early white man in the "wild" west.
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