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Prophet Annie

by Ellen Recknor

Publishers Weekly Spur Award-winner Recknor (Leaving Missouri) offers a daffy, highly original western told in the voice of a sassy and bewildered heroine whose unlikely and hilarious adventures skewer the conventions of the traditional Wild West tale. In 1881, at age 22, Annie Pinkerton Boone Newcastle is already twice a widow. Born in Sycamore, Iowa, which she fled only briefly at 17 to marry a gandy dancer who was promptly kicked in the head by a mule, she is promised in marriage by her dying mother to Jonas Newcastle, a prosperous "old geezer" 54 years her senior. Jonas dies in bed on their wedding night (shouting, "Freedom!"), and that's the good news for Annie. The bad news is that Jonas's ghost inhabits Annie's body, talking to her, demanding conjugal visits and giving speeches through her to audiences eager to hear Jonas's visions of the future. As a circus oddity, she becomes Prophet Annie, sort of a Psychic Network of the 1880s. Traveling with P.T. Barnum and her gourmet chef Navajo pal, Sam Two Trees, Annie feeds shortcake to her pet African cheetah in the Arizona desert while dead birds fall on her head and Jonas spouts predictions about baseball, automobiles, electricity, WWI and Jack Benny. Annie's notoriety brings her fame, fortune and the unwelcome attentions of an inept gang of outlaws whose meanness is only outmatched by their odor. Here Recknor's tale bogs down in sappy predictability as Annie falls in love with the outlaw leader in a typical good-girl-loves-bad-boy scenario. The earlier charm of Annie's blunt-spoken narrative eventually loses its magic, skidding into a too-cute conclusion. When Jonas's ghost departs, the reader will wish for an encore by the "dirty-minded old coot." (Mar.)

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