July 23, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

Streets of Laredo

Current Status
In Season
Larry McMurtry
We gave it a B

Set west of the Pecos, in Zane Grey country, Streets of Laredo reads like a Biblical version of a dime novel. Evil walks abroad in the land. A Mexican youth named Joey Garza amputates the hands and feet of his mother’s third husband, launching a homicidal career of gothic proportions. When Joey robs trains, killing upward of 30 Anglos in the process, the railroad doesn’t take kindly to the disruption of its service and hires Captain Woodrow Call (Augustus McCrae’s sidekick in Lonesome Dove) to apprehend Joey.

Out on the trail Call acquires a small posse, including a tenderfoot from Brooklyn and a couple of local deputies. And he picks up more bad news. Another Western sicko is running amok: a psychotic runt named Mox Mox whose specialty is burning people alive. The number of people who are torched, hacked, slaughtered, and otherwise dispatched in this novel is epidemic. Some of the events echo real-life episodes in Texas, from Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo’s ritual dismemberments a few years back along the border to the recent fiery denouement at Ranch Apocalypse outside Waco.

The main leavening force in Laredo‘s frontier wasteland is women like Lorena, the good-hearted prostitute from Lonesome Dove, and Maria, Joey’s long-suffering mother, who has two other children, one blind and one retarded, whom Joey wants to drown. These women battle hell itself to keep home and hearth intact. Talk about tough: Laredo makes Louis L’Amour seem like a pantywaist. B

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