A story with the proverbial cowboy, a damsel in distress, and a showdown at high noon is grist for a good old fashioned novel. The Stuttering Tattoo from Greg Logsted contemporizes the scene by putting a seventeen year old, average suburbanite named Steven Bishop in the role of the cowboy. A bad girl named Becky Moore who belongs to Pa’s roving band of gypsies but looking for a normal life and a shot at being a professional singer on the big stage is the damsel in distress. The showdown is between Bishop and Pa, the ringleader of a coven of con artists who ride into the town of Tall Trees to swindle Tom Murphy, a club owner who’s operating a lucrative prostitution and gambling circuit.
With Bishop playing the part of the Lone Ranger and his co-worker/mentor at St. Augustine’s, Carlos Perez playing Tonto, anything can happen which is what draws readers to the pages. Logsted is skilled at spiking the story here and there to enliven the plot and get the scenes rolling like when Moore’s dog King is chomping on an amputated arm garnishing a ring on one of its fingers. It’s later discovered that the symbol on the ring is of Pa’s organization Thirty-Seven, and the amputated arm belongs to a friend of Moore’s, Susan Wells who wanted out of the crime ring. Bishop realizes that the symbol is tattooed on the back of Moore’s neck, and therefore, she must be involved in this unsavory situation; and yet, he can’t stay away.
In the vane of traditional old westerns like the ’60s TV show Bonanza, there are the good guys and the bad guys. When one of the bad guys wants to break away, the other bad guys kill the dissenter. There’s the role of being on the stage in Pa’s coven which means doing a job, and there’s being behind the curtain which is being part of the support crew on a job.
Logsted blurs the line when it comes to the bad guys. For instance, in one of the opening scenes, Moore slashes the tires of one of the guidance counselor’s at the high school and carves the organization’s insignia on the side door with a knife. It’s a job she’s ordered to do by Pa. Bishop witnesses the crime being committed, but says nothing to the school authorities or to his dad who’s a cop. Bishop looks over the crime, and in fact, seems to be more attracted to Becky whose attitude is reminiscent of the character of Joan Jett in the 2011 movie “The Runaways.”
Bishop’s parents who are divorced and act as passive figures in the book. Instead, he turns to his friend Carlos Perez from work who acts more like a protective fatherly presence, and Hank Shepherd, the proprietor of the off the road luncheonette called the Infinite Jest café, who comes off as grandfatherly towards Bishop. These two men are Bishop’s support system and help him through what he believes he’s compelled to do, namely, to rescue Moore from Thirty-Seven.
An intriguing story that can also be irritating to readers at times like Bishop’s insistence to help Moore when she doesn’t seem to put much effort into breaking away from Thirty-Seven, or finishing what her friend Susan Wells started which was to expose the corruption of the organization. The story skims over the corruption and evidence against the organization while concentrating on Bishop’s attraction to Moore. Logsted portrays Moore as confident, but towards the end, it’s Bishop and Carlos who show confidence. For a teenager for remained on the sidelines of life, Steven Bishop passes through that rite of passage of becoming a man.