By now, most people know that the myth of the Wild, Wild West was indeed a myth. Melissa Lenhardt’s Heresy presents yet another interesting take on the Wild West circa 1877 through a story of female outlaws—and not just one or two like Cattle Annie and Little Britches, but whole bands of them, many of whom were better at robbing banks than men were. The women’s planning was brilliant and done well in advance. They never stole from ordinary people and were generally nonviolent. They also lasted longer than male gangs, mostly because no one believed that women were capable of banditry.
The leader of the gang in Lenhardt’s novel is Margaret Parker, a transplanted Englishwoman who prefers the more androgynous and sexier name of Garet. Proud, smart, stubborn, loving and persistently bitter over being dismissed by men who don’t take her criminal activities seriously, Garet almost wants to get caught. She and her husband were both members of the British aristocracy before they moved to the States to stake a claim. Then he died, and her ranch was stolen out from under her by a Salty Sam type. It was then that Garet figured out that robbing stagecoaches and banks was a good way to keep herself and her family from starvation.
Garet’s family is her gang of thieves, which is composed of complex, lusty women of diverse backgrounds. The men around them, most of whom are smug in their male chauvinism, underestimate the women at their peril. The gang’s story is told many years later by Henrietta “Hattie” Lee, Garet’s sister-in-arms. Lenhardt cleverly intersperses Hattie’s recollections, told to a reporter from the Works Progress Administration, with journal entries from Garet and a female “travel writer” and snippets from old newspapers.
Heresy, which is also the name of the horse ranch where the women live between heists, is a rollicking, engrossing book that’ll keep you reading well past your bedtime.