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Literature: The Western Mysteries

"My name is P.K. Pinkerton and before this day is over I will be dead."
The Case of the Deadly Desperados

This series by Caroline Lawrence is set in the Nevada Territory in the early 1860s. The series has also been published as The P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries. It follows the adventures of PK "Pinky" Pinkerton , an autistic savant, half-Sioux, Kid Detective. PK was orphaned at a young age, and was adopted by a kindly preacher and his wife. However, when a gang of outlaws shows up looking for something valuable, PK is forced to flee to Virginia City, a frontier mining town full of outlaws, soiled doves, prospectors, gunmen, gamblers, Chinese and even a newspaper reporter with a fondness for witticism and tall tales.

Novels in this series
  1. The Case of the Deadly Desperados, also published as P.K. Pinkerton and the Deadly Desperados
  2. The Case of the Good-Looking Corpse, also published as P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man
  3. The Case of the Pistol-packing Widows, also published as P.K. Pinkerton and the Pistol-packing Widows

Caroline Lawrence is also the author of The Roman Mysteries and The Roman Mystery Scrolls.

Tropes Include

  • A Birthday, Not A Break: On PK's 12th birthday, PK's foster parents are murdered and he is forced to flee.
  • Amateur Sleuth - Pinky
  • Ambiguous Gender - Pinky might be a female disguised as a boy. Caroline Lawrence states that she is being intentionally vague about Pinky's gender.
  • Amoral Attorney - Pinky's father calls lawyers "The Devil's Own" and Pinky accepts this view.
  • As the Good Book Says - Pinky references the Bible several times, which is to be expected from the foster child of a Methodist preacher.
  • Bad Samaritan - Belle Donne
  • Attractive Bent-Gender - When dressed as a girl, Pinky attracts the attentions of a local boy. When dressed as a boy, Pinky attracts the attentions of a local girl. These leads Pinky to comment that everyone in Virginia City is either trying to kill you or kiss you.
  • Bonus Material - The book contains a glossary for period specific terms
  • The Bully - Olaf, Abe and Charlie
  • The Case Of: The series uses this naming scheme, with The Case of the Deadly Desperados and The Case of the Good Looking Corpse.
  • Chinese Launderer - Virginia City is full of Chinese laundries, and Pinky tries to hide in one.
  • Conveniently an Orphan - Pinky's birth mother is dead and Pinky's father is missing and presumed dead. To make things worse, Pinky's foster parents are scalped and killed at the beginning of the first book.
  • Disney Villain Death - Whittlin Walt dies by falling down a pit in a mine.
  • Disguised in Drag - One of the many costumes Pinky wears is a dress and a wig. Of course, if Pinky is really a girl, that would be case of a Wholesome Crossdresser doing Recursive Crossdressing.
  • Doomed Hometown - Pinky's foster parents are killed by outlaws at the begining of the first book, forcing Pinky to go on the run.
  • Dramatic Deadpan - Much of PK's dialogue and narration.
  • Fingore - A character has the tip of his finger chopped off, which goes flying and lands on Pinky's plate.
  • Free-Range Children - Pinky, with no adult guardians left alive after the first few chapters of the book
  • Gender Neutral Writing - Pinky always uses the first person for self-reference, which is gender neutral. Other characters tend to think Pinky is male and refer to Pinky as "he" and "him". This article tries to avoid pronouns for Pinky altogether, which sometimes makes for some very awkward writing.
  • Good with Numbers - PK is exceptionally skilled at mental math.
  • Hand Cannon - One character uses a Le Mat Revolver, which in addition to a nine-chambered cylinder and a regular barrel, had a central shotgun barrel, fired by a special pivoting striker.
  • Happily Adopted - Pinky was adopted by a preacher and his wife and seems to have been quite happy about it.
  • Harmful to Minors - Pinky comes home to find both parents scalped.
  • The Hero - Pinky
  • Historical Fiction - Set in Virginia City, 1862
  • Historical-Domain Character - Samuel Clemens appears as a newspaper reporter new in town and looking for a scoop.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold - "Soiled Dove" Belle Donne helps PK hide from Whittlin Walt. However she then robs him. Twice. So, at best she has a heart of silver. Or maybe a heart in need of silver to help pay her opium habit. She could be considered a partial subversion of this trope, however it looks like she might mend her ways at the end of the story.
  • Instant Death Bullet - Very intentionally averted, as was Improbable Aiming Skills. Caroline Lawrence made a point of consulting with experts on period firearms.
  • Kid Detective - It is Pinky's ambition to become a detective. At the end of the first book, he sets up his own private detective business.
  • Kid Hero - Pinky is only 12.
  • Little Stowaway - Pinky sneaks onto a stagecoach. The driver doesn't mind once he recognizes Pinky.
  • Little Useless Gun - Pinky carriers a seven shot .22 revolver, which he had been told was impossible to hit anything with. It turns out that in the hands of an experienced gunman firing from only a few feet away, it is perfectly possible to hit someone with it. The only problem was that the gunman in question was shooting at Pinky .
  • Luke, I Am Your Father - Subverted. Whittlin Walt tries to convince PK that he is PK's father. It doesn't work.
  • MacGuffin - The contents of Pinky's medicine bag, specifically A letter that claims to grant "The Bearer" ownership of most of the silver mines in Virginia City.
  • Meaningful Name - The name "Pinkerton" associates PK with the Pinkerton Detective, both in the minds of historically informed readers in in Pinky's own mind. Pinky believes that Alan Pinkerton, founder of the Pinkertons, is Pinky's uncle.
  • Mixed Ancestry - Pinky is half-Sioux, half-White
  • Mystery Arc, Mystery Fiction and Detective Drama - The books are mystery stories set in the American Old West.
  • The Narrator - The story is told in first person with Pinky as the narrator.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter - A variety of ways are used to make it clear a character is swearing without actually writing the swear word, including replacing letters with dashes and making reference to "language not fit for publication."
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket - In addition to the MacGuffin, Pinky has a copper railroad detective uniform button that belongs to Pinky's father.
  • Outlaw - "Whittlin Walt" Darmitage and his two Mooks, though they don't seem to have a problem with making an appearance in town.
  • Parental Abandonment - See Conveniently an Orphan
  • Pocket Protector - Poker Face Jace is saved from a gunshot wound by a deck of cards in his pocket.
  • Poker - Poker Face Jace uses Pinky to spy on the feet of his poker opponents in order to pick up tells that would be blocked by a table.
  • Pony Express Rider - Referenced by not used directly. The Pony Express was replaced by the telegraph about a year before the story begins.
  • Preacher's Kid - PK is the foster child of a Methodist Preacher Man.
  • Pinkerton Detective - PK believes that the elder brother of Alan Pinkerton, founder of the Pinkerton Detectives, is his real father. Because of this, PK wants to become a Pinkerton Detective.
  • Professional Gambler - Poker Face Jace
  • Prospector - Being a silver mining boom town, there are quite a few living in Virginia City.
  • Rags to Riches - More like modest comfort to rags to riches, all in the course of a few days.
  • Recounted By The Main Characters - The introduction to the book claims that the series is based on ledgers found by Caroline Lawrence in an attic. Caroline than goes on to lampshade this by referring to Mark Twain's habit of publishing fictional stories as is they were true stories.
  • Schoolmarm - School marms are referenced but so far have not played a major role.
  • Saloon Owner - According to Pinky's foster father, the most respected person in Virginia City is the Saloon Owner.
  • Snooping Little Kid - Pinky
  • The Sheriff - Referenced but so far has not appeared "on screen".
  • Unreliable Narrator - Pinky, according to Word of God
  • Wanted Poster - There is a wanted poster for Whittlin Walt offering a $2000 award.
  • The Western and The Wild West - Caroline Lawrence tries to balance Western fiction tropes and historically accurate portrayals of Virginia City Nevada in 1862,
  • Wretched Hive - Pinky's father describes Virginia City as "Satan's Playground" and "...the vilest place, worse than San Francisco." He isn't far from the truth.
  • Zillion-Dollar Bill - PK inherited a document claiming to be a deed for most of the mining areas around Virginia City. If he could make such a claim stick, he would become a millionaire.


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alternative title(s): Western Mysteries; The Western Mysteries; The PK Pinkerton Mysteries
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