The Oklahoma Territory was a bleak, brutal place in 1894, and Speer Morgan’s compelling novel begins, appropriately enough, with a botched public hanging. Witnessing this unsettling ritual is Tom Freshour, a striking half-Indian who knows nothing of the world beyond the orphanage where he’s been raised by a sadistic minister. But Tom is about to get a bracing education, thanks especially to two people: Jake Jaycox, an aging hardware salesman who takes Tom under his wing, and Samantha King, a beautiful, mysterious woman who attaches herself to the two men and promptly seduces Tom.
The wild and bawdy adventures of this colorful trio begin with a horrific flood, but the story turns darker when Tom and his companions run afoul of a scheme to steal thousands of acres from depression-ravaged farmers. Before long, they are being chased by a hired killer; meanwhile, Tom’s searing memories of his childhood drive him back to the orphanage and a violent confrontation with the man who made him a whipping boy. Ultimately, Tom learns that the real villains in this unforgiving territory are not the outlaws with six-guns but the heartless businessmen who will do anything to amass wealth and property.
In the tradition of Pete Dexter’s Deadwood, this is a richly imagined yarn about frontier life by a superb storyteller. Remarkable for its suspense, rich characterization, and seamless prose, The Whipping Boy is both a hugely entertaining tale and an utterly fresh evocation of a legendary American landscape.
“The Whipping Boy is full of rich delights, particularly for those readers who fear that, in these literary times, a serious writer with a cogent vision of the world has to secure those things by giving up his storytelling soul. Speer Morgan has it both ways, with a novel that is compelling and resonant. I enjoyed this book immensely.”
— Robert Olen Butler, author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
“Speer Morgan has taken full advantage of the Old West yarn, giving us beguiling heroes we can root for, ugly villains we can hiss, and a highly original plot with as many twists and turns as a hillside mule path. The Whipping Boy is a fresh and exciting book.”
— Ron Hansen, author of Mariette in Ecstasy
“Here is the real West in its lurid twilight — the Oklahoma Indian Territory when the last land grab was under way. Here too is a good mystery, a bawdy romance, and characters with blood, not ink, in their veins. Every vignette of frontier life — flood, train wreck, blizzard, bank, brothel, or church — is authentic. Forget L’Amour; what really happened is so much better, and done here by a better hand.”
— Will Baker, author of Hell, West, and Crooked
“In a tale as plainspoken as a country conversation and as relentless as a prairie wind, Morgan tells of a young man’s search for wholeness in a time when the violence of the American frontier was giving way to a new kind of lawlessness. The Whipping Boy brings alive the pain and shame of a little-read chapter of history, when greed ruled, thievery wore a frock coat, and guile was the governing virtue.”
— Charles Gueswelle, columnist, Kansas City Star
“With The Whipping Boy, Speer Morgan delivers a rollicking page-turner. I read it once with a fierce compulsion to find out what would happen, a second time for the pleasure of the language and craft.”
— Wally Lamb, author of She’s Come Undone
- Speer Morgan, March 2010
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