July 15, 2016 by kitmoss
ACCORDING TO HOYLE by Abigail Roux
The title of this charming novel comes from the admonition to stick to the rules of card games “according to Hoyle.” The playfully pacifist Hoyle put together a manual listing all carded games and accepted procedures and rules, avoiding some unnecessary violence at the card table. This novel takes place in 1882 when the American West is in transition from wild to the first formal efforts at establishing and enforcing law and order. Federal Marshals Eli Flynn and William Henry Washington are performing their duties by escorting three prisoners by trail and then riverboat to New Orleans for trial. One is a notorious but erudite and elegant outlaw called Dusty Rose. Following the theme of criminality being in the eye of the beholder, the Marshals must decide how to apply a strict code of law to the dandy or trust him when all their lives are in danger.
Like a lot of M/M westerns, the book relies to more than usual extent on an assumption that part of being Wild means the west has been to attract those whose love dares not speak its name. – there are points where one gets the impression all these bold, strong, intimidating, and often dangerous lawmen and desperados harbor a yen for their fellow buckaroo. Accept this as valid, since we really don’t know and you’ll enjoy the romances that derive from this assumption.
As the lawmen, Dusty, a mute man named Cage, and various bad guys bent on killing them all and stealing some uranium the Indians had hidden, travel through the plains, Western towns to the Mississippi and onto the river in a steamboat, one learns that shy and “by the book” Flynn has a crush on laid back but highly competent Washington, while Cage welcomes the attentions of Rose who appears to become quite sweet on him. When in St. Louis, Washington takes pity on the lovers in their custody and lets them some time alone for a bath in the hotel, Flynn is astonished, and sure enough the two criminals do make an escape attempt. The conflict is thoroughly established as double, whether the outlaws are really the solid guys and whether Flynn should stop pussyfooting around and confess his love to Washington.
The character Dusty Rose is a real charmer, funny, literate, in control of most situations, and probably not guilty of breaking any laws. He is a bittersweet character, both self-actualized and oppressed by the ban on same sex love. Flynn is conflicted, not the sharpest tool in the shed, and generally pretty much at sea about things. Washington is intelligent, aware, and not willing to put the letter of the law strictly in force. Cage is the unknown factor, his crime almost an act of heroism, assuming he really did what he said, with a hidden past he wants to get cover. The double set of potential couples here makes for a lot of plot twists.
I love the cover… it drew old history nut me.
The prose is wonderful, clever but not sappy. The adventure keeps you guessing. The bad guys are undeniably bad and evil but are in the story mainly to create havoc that is the crucible for the love stories.