Cover image for Black powder, white smoke
Black powder, white smoke
Estleman, Loren D.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Forge, 2002.
Physical Description:
318 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"A Tom Doherty Associates book."
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Western

On Order



Two men, black and white.

In New Orleans, the black man, Honey Boutrille, saves a prostitute's life by killing her attacker.

In San Francisco, the white man, Twice Emmerson, kills a Chinaman because he likes killing.

These two men go on the lam, and their adventures, nip and tuck through scrape after scrape, are the zest of Loren Estleman's wildest tale of the West. The protagonists are different as black and white--Honey rough but honorable, Emmerson chaotic and violent. They attract not only the dogs of the law but the avid interest of those who would exploit them. A journalist tracks Honey, eager to turn his life story into a cautionary parable that will chill white readers. A showman seeksEmmerson, cynically eager to sign him to a contract for the stage and create a competitor to Buffalo Bill.

Honey and Emmerson rage through an authentic West drawn with a fierce and gleeful truthfulness, leaving trails of bodies, pursued ever more relentlessly, and moving always toward a central and inescapable meeting place, Denver, Colorado.

The meeting has the scope, inevitability, and shattering power of Greek tragedy.

Author Notes

Loren D. Estleman was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan on September 15, 1952. He received a B.A. in English literature and journalism from Eastern Michigan University in 1974. He spent several years as a reporter on the police beat before leaving to write full time in 1980. He wrote book reviews for such newspapers as The New York Times and The Washington Post and contributed articles to such periodicals as TV Guide.

He is a writer of mysteries and westerns. His first novel was published in 1976 and since then he has published more than 70 books including the Amos Walker series, Writing the Popular Novel, Roy and Lillie: A Love Story, The Confessions of Al Capone, and a The Branch and the Scaffold. He received four Shamus Awards from the Private Eye Writers of America, five Golden Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America, the Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement from Western Writers of America, and the Michigan Author's Award in 1997.

(Bowker Author Biography) He lives in Whitmore Lake, Michigan.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

When Honey Boutrile kills a white man from a wealthy family in the course of saving a woman's life, he becomes a hunted man. As he flees a certain hanging, other men die, and he acquires an unwanted reputation as a ferocious killer. Emerson Emerson is a lifetime criminal with a quick temper and no conscience and views the generally lawless West as an opportunity to line his pockets. Ernest Torbert is a bored Chicago advertising writer who accepts a commission from a publisher to track Boutrile's bloody trail across the South and satiate the public demand for breathless accounts of the bloody frontier. Casper Box is a show-business promoter who focuses on Emerson as the man to fill the public need for legendary outlaws. The paths of these four men ultimately converge in a conclusion in which reality is compromised by fantasy, to the detriment of all. As always, Estleman delivers unique characters, a thought-provoking plot propelled by moral issues, and a vision of the West that will force readers to rethink many of their preconceptions. --Wes Lukowsky

Publisher's Weekly Review

Estleman (White Desert) adds another absorbing saddle yarn to his more than 40 westerns and crime novels. Set in 1885 in an Old West culture of bad whiskey, low morals and high adventure, the story follows four men on a collision course with a destiny they neither expect nor welcome. Ex-slave Honey Boutrille runs a New Orleans bordello called the House of Rest for Weary Boatmen. When he kills a white man for mutilating one of his girls, Honey must flee west to escape the hangman. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, former Civil War bushwhacker Twice Emerson, now a train robber and murderer wanted for the shooting of a Chinese immigrant, decides he will breathe easier and longer if he moves his robbing-and-killing operation to the Rockies. As these two outlaws run from posses, marshals and vigilantes, two other men pursue them with more benign motives. Journalist Ernest Torbert has given up a job creating ads for Chicago meatpackers to track down Honey and write a lurid biography of the fugitive. Casper Box, a wily showman and theatrical agent, wants to sign up Twice for a Wild West show before a lawman's bullet gets to him first. After some bloody and hair-raising adventures, all four men eventually end up in Denver, the Gomorrah of the Rockies, where they pull off a climactic performance. Estleman combines action, suspense and a twist of humor in this satisfying drama full of Western lore. (Nov. 27) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Estleman has written over 40 books, alternating between historical Westerns and detective stories. This latest Western tells the parallel stories of two fugitives from justice and the two men trying to find them before the authorities do. "Honey" Boutrille is a freed slave who kills a white man to save a working girl in the New Orleans brothel he owns. "Twice" Emerson is a career criminal on the run after a botched train robbery. Most of the time, Honey travels in Texas, while Twice hides out in the West. We know that they will eventually cross paths, but part of this story's charm is how it will happen. Meanwhile, writer Ernest Torbert is looking for Honey so that he can write his life story, while vaudeville impresario Casper Box hopes to make Twice the star of a Wild West show. Each fugitive narrowly escapes capture a number of times, leading to the inevitable climax. Writing in a colloquial style that is still easily understood, Estleman subtly includes interesting historical detail and character background that add depth to the story. His characters are somewhat one-dimensional but still interesting. Recommended for all Western collections and where Estleman's books are popular.-Joel W. Tscherne, Cleveland P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



ONE They're still talking about this one down on Gallatin Street. Honey Boutrille was sitting in at the piano for his regular man, who was down with the drip, hitting all the wrong keys because he couldn't read a note and had no ear (although he was convinced he did), when a customer from the West End mutilated one of Honey's whores in the back room of the House of Rest for Weary Boatmen. This much was agreed upon by witnesses. What followed is still in dispute as to some details. The House of Rest was known by the New Orleans police as the Port of Missing Men. After a dockman with a wife and six children disappeared there in '81, a flying squad of officers had swept through the establishment with axe handles, followed by city laborers with crowbars and shovels, who pulled up the floorboards and dug for the remains of twenty-odd victims rumored to be buried on the premises. No bones were found, but ten or twelve empty bloodstained wallets turned up, and the owner was jailed and the front door padlocked. Honey had then bought the House of Rest for one hundred dollars cash, with a like amount paid to the magistrate for permission to reopen. There wasn't fifty dollars' worth of good lumber in the whole construction, built as it was with timbers from old flatboats and warped cypress planks, but the location was good and half the population of the French Quarter was in the habit of going there when it tired of the more glamorous establishments on Lafayette and Basin. The new proprietor further sweetened the deal by stocking the back bar with good whiskey and cognac and assembling a string of high-yeller whores with refined features and flexible joints. He'd recovered his investment the first week and started buying his tailoring and haberdashery from a shop on Tulane Avenue. Honey--born Honoré Philippe Toussaint-Louverture Boutrille--was as black as anthracite, and like anthracite the angular bones of his face appeared to glow with a blue flame. Apart from that, he presented a disappointment to white men whose experience of Negroes fell no closer than minstrels in greasepaint. His hooded eyes seldom showed their whites and his polished teeth remained hidden inside a mouth that only smiled when something amused him. He favored dove-gray English bowler hats lined with red silk and European-cut suits with pinched waists, rolled lapels, and one American feature: extra room under the left arm for his pistol rigout. The revolver was not beautiful. It was a short-barreled double-action .45 British Bulldog with most of the checking worn off the grips and no blueing left on the steel. A much more attractive weapon had been presented to him by one of his whores on the occasion of her leaving the line for marriage, but he had traded the gold-plated Colt's Lightning to a riverboat pilot for a case of .45 cartridges and cash. The Bulldog had saved his life a number of times and it showed only when he used it. He was the child of slaves, and although at age three he'd chopped cotton on a Louisiana plantation, he had no memory of it. That was the year Mr. Lincoln turned the slaves loose. Two miles away from the fields on the family's flight to freedom and the unknown, a Copperhead unloaded a LaMatte pistol into his father's face. Young Honoré was raised by his mother and two aunts in Baton Rouge until age twelve, when his mother died of a disease of the stomach everyone blamed on bad apples and his aunts told him that without his mother's income from the sugar refinery where she'd worked they couldn't afford to keep him. They packed him off with a pail full of fried chicken and steamboat passage to New Orleans, where they said a boy could find work in the plants and distilleries. He'd found work, but not of the kind they'd described, and had spent thirteen years wishing he could wipe it out as easily as he'd forgotten his time on the plantation. On this sopping, buzzy night late in August, he was observing the twenty-fifth anniversary of his birth. He'd told no one of the occasion, from a hard-learned conviction that every little bit of information one gave up about himself counted against him and for his enemies. A second glass of cognac as he punished the piano was the extent of his celebration, and he'd waited until the day bartender went home and his replacement came on before he'd ordered it. He was reckless about nothing except which keys he hit. When the thuds and shouting from the back disrupted one of his chords, he hesitated, then went back to the beginning of the measure and started over. He kept the order at the House of Rest, and although he was conscientious, he was not a zealot. A portion of rowdiness was permitted--his was not the Mansion House, where a certain gentility was maintained by muscular, well-dressed ushers to keep the graft manageable and the Ladies' Reform Committee at bay--and first-time customers were instructed that prompt payment of damages was enforced by the proprietor. He went on playing, ignoring the disturbance, until his concierge, a one-eyed mulatto too old and fat for the line whom New Orleans had named Madame Pantalon, came trundling up and wheezed into his ear that Mademoiselle Josephine was being murdered by the man from Texas. Texas was not the man's home. He had spent four years there at the urging of his father, who had made his fortune a generation earlier exporting molasses to Europe and had since ingratiated himself with the gentry so far as to dread the threat of expulsion as he feared the grave. The son, Winton Claude Saint-Maarten, had crippled the husband of a young woman in a duel of honor. As the husband was connected by family with the Department of Commerce, the removal of the son from the vicinity appeared to be the best course until peace could be made. The assassination of James A. Garfield and the new administration that followed severed the injured man's ties with Washington, and Saint-Maarten was allowed to return. However, during his time in Texas he had fallen in with shabby company, and brought back with him the guerrilla ways he had learned there. It developed that in the midst of an enthusiastic session with Josephine de la Mothe, who claimed to trace her ancestry to the explorer Cadillac, Saint-Maarten's left earlobe was bitten almost through. In his pain and rage he had snatched a bronze cupid off a table near the bed and bludgeoned Mademoiselle de la Mothe into a bloody stupor, shattering her cheekbone and caving in all her teeth on one side. Madame Pantalon explained much of this in short bursts as she scurried to keep up with Honey's long strides on the way toward the back room. The door to this room was reinforced with timber, framed likewise, and secured with a brass bolt that had been rescued from a captain's stateroom. There was no forcing it, and since cries to Saint-Maarten to surrender himself went unanswered, and any bullets fired through the planks risked striking the victim, Honey had nothing to do but wait out the assailant. The ensuing thirteen and one-half hours heaped another legend atop the pile that prevented New Orleans from sliding into the swamp. The room had no window, and no exit apart from the door that led into the main saloon. Punching an egress through another wall, or tearing up the floorboards and digging, were desperate alternatives at best: The rear half of the building was constructed on a dock, beneath which the sluggish waters of the Mississippi were believed to crawl with fifteen-foot-long alligators and leeches the size of prawns. (Rumor said the 'gators had developed a taste for human flesh after the incident of the owners of the twelve bloodstained wallets.) Honey Boutrille did not delude himself that his own reputation was so fearsome as to persuade someone of Saint-Maarten's temperament to test his luck with the carniverous local fauna. The proprietor dragged a chair away from one of the tables--deserted all, in the wake of his sudden appearance in the main room with Bulldog in hand--and sat astraddle the seat facing the door with his chin resting on the back and the pistol on the floor within convenient reach of one of his long arms. After three hours, Madame Pantalon brought food. A chamber pot was provided, and a maidservant even older and fatter than the madame took it away for emptying. Honey gnawed the flesh off a roasted chicken, washed it down with gin--he feared typhoid and avoided water except for bathing--and wiped the grease off his hands with a damp towel. His attention never strayed from the door, from behind which drifted the occasional feminine whimper, cut off by a sharp hiss and sometimes the crack of a hand. By these lights only he knew that the room was still occupied. No conversation passed through the planks. He drank only when he ate, to restore his fluids and not to the point of inebriation. He smoked three General Thompsons, to remain alert. The blue smoke crept up toward the rafters and joined the phantom haze of a thousand other cigars, hand-rolled cigarettes, and bowlfuls of shag, eureka, and honeydew. He crushed the butts beneath the toe of an elastic-sided boot, adding to the gray ash and brown leaf that paved the floor. Now and then he unslung the nickel-plated watch from his vest pocket and looked at the time. He wasn't expected anywhere. A knowledge of the hour enabled a man to remain oriented. At the end of each half-hour, he stood and stretched his limbs and rotated his neck. Then he sat back down. He was thinking of getting up to stretch again when the bolt grated on the other side of the door. He rose without a sound, lifted the chair carefully to avoid scraping the floor, and set it down gently to one side. He straightened with the Bulldog in his hand and eased back the hammer. He never fired the weapon without cocking, unless there was no time; the heavy pull of the double-action mechanism interfered with his aim. He waited until the brass knob started turning, then turned his body sideways and lifted his gun arm to shoulder height, sighting down it at head level. The knob completed its revolution. Nothing happened for a long time after that. Then the door began to drift away from the frame. The minute hand of a clock never moved slower than that door. He held the revolver loosely, allowing air to circulate between his fingers. He didn't tighten them until the door was open a third of the way. The door stopped then, and after an interval, Mademoiselle Josephine's face appeared in the opening. Her chin was high, the way she carried it when in full cry of the Cadillac relationship, but the pose seemed more artificial than usual, and today the elegance ended there. The left side of her face was a mask of dried blood, the eye on that side purple and swollen and the corner of her mouth drawn up to expose her raw and naked gums. She was breathing rapidly and suddenly a clot broke and a fresh scarlet stream burst forth her left nostril and streaked down to the corner of her jaw. Half of another head appeared behind hers. Her chin jerked up another notch. She gasped, and Honey knew she was being held by her hair. Light from the Chesterfields glided the length of the blade across her throat; a Texas knife, big as a sickle. The woman wore only a thin cotton shift, soaked through with sweat and caked with blood. Her nipples stood out like rivets. The head behind Mademoiselle Josephine's was bald in front, with a creamy band across the top where the tan ended. Below that was a round face, shiny, its one visible eye a dollop of blood-flecked spittle quivering in the socket. Blonde stubble prickled on his cheeks, a shade lighter than the Vandyke beard he'd grown while he was away. The arm holding the knife wore a striped sleeve and he'd pushed his pilot's cap to the back of his head to keep the visor from blocking his vision. His breath came in shuddering pants. Honey could smell the sour mash at ten paces. "Don't stir a hair!" Saint-Maarten's voice, normally a pleasant tenor that attracted women and handsome boys, was shrill. "I'll cut her head clean off!" "Why'd you want to go and do that, boss? It's the prettiest head in the place." Honey held his position. "This cannibal tried to bite off my ear. Don't you feed them?" "I feature she got lost in the act. You too, boss. It's just nature." "She's a harlot and an octoroon. If I wasn't drunk on that cottonmouth piss you pour here I'd sooner stick my phizzle in a mousehole." "A rathole, I heard. The girls tell me you's hung like a elephant." "You'd know, you African nigger. Let me pass." "Where you fixed to go, boss? I heard you done got tired of Texas." "I'll throw you her head if you won't stand aside." "You do that I'll shoot you right out of your boots." The eye stopped quivering. The hand holding the knife moved. A thread of blood slid down between Mademoiselle Josephine's breasts. Honey fired. The eye disappeared. The slug took off Saint-Maarten's cap along with the back of his skull. The knife tilted. Honey stepped forward, catching the woman under the arms as her knees bent. Saint-Maarten fell away. In less than a minute the room was filled with employees of the House of Rest for Weary Boatmen, in shifts and full street dress and artless nudity. Madame Pantalon looked down at the human wreckage and crossed herself. "They string you up for this." "I know it." He held Mademoiselle Josephine tight. She was wailing, her cries muffled against his chest. "Take the train." "I'll take the river." "No one takes the river no more." "That's what they'll say." "Damn dirty shame." He disengaged himself from Mademoiselle Josephine. She sagged into Madame Pantalon's arms. He nudged Saint-Maarten's ribs with his toe. "Someone get this piece of offal out of my establishment." Copyright (c) 2002 by Loren D. Estleman Excerpted from Black Powder, White Smoke by Loren D. Estleman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.