Despite the superficial character portrayal, this is an engrossing look at theatrical life and the foot-racing phenomenon (``pedestrianism'') in the American West during the 1870s. The main playersand racersare Professor Moriarty, Buck Miller and Billy Joe Speed (all aliases) and their ladies. As Moriarty's ``Theatre of the West'' plies various Western towns, with occasional trips ``back East,'' he and his younger cohorts work different foot-racing scams on the locals. They never cheat at racing but aren't above confusing opposing bettors and runners (``fast men'') as to their true identities. Almost all the action revolves around the psychological warfare, physical training and actual racing contests. The major high points are a world-record sprint in England and a climactic men-and-horses competition in 1878 Arizona. We also get interesting glimpses of life upon the stage and of such real-life people as P. T. Barnum, Leland Stanford and Edwin Booth. Even readers not much interested in stage lore or pedestrianism will find it hard to put this book down: the pace never flags. McNab also wrote Flanagan's Run. (February)
This novel combines elements of The Sting and Chariots of Fire in the setting of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid . It tells the story of two foot-racersBuck Miller and Billy Joe Speedwho, under the tutelage of dramatic impresario Professor Moriarty, con 19th-century Westerners out of their hard-earned dollars at the sport of ``pedestrianism.'' Their spare time and effort are spent performing in Moriarty's itinerant Theatre of the West. Despite some glimmers of charm, the pace and style of this book seldom rise above the ordinary. Not recommended. William C. McCully, Park Ridge P.L., Ill.