Lizbeth Rose is a “gunnie,” a crack shot with her bolt-action Winchester rifle and her pair of Colt handguns, who makes a living guarding people on their helter-skelter treks between towns in the Texoma desert. With the United States government in tatters after the assassination of Franklin Roosevelt and the continent subsequently swallowed up by Canada, Mexico, England and Imperial Russia, there is no such thing as an easy life. So when her crew is killed on a run, Lizbeth is forced to take whatever job comes along, even if it means following a dour pair of Russian wizards on their hunt for the last descendants of Rasputin. As their search takes them south, Lizbeth is drawn ever closer to a part of her past she would rather forget. At least she won’t be unarmed when she finds it.
In An Easy Death, Charlaine Harris’s fictionalized mid-century North America is enticingly familiar. Although she will win no prizes for eloquence, her blunt prose serves the first-person narration, as it matches Lizbeth’s personality and language. Seen through the gunnie’s eyes, what used to be the American Southwest is brutal and remorseless, but draped in a kind of honesty the reader is forced to respect. Lizbeth’s descriptions of the wizards, or “grigoris” as she derisively calls them, are studiously, sometimes hilariously devoid of flowery language. She is content to describe their methods of combat as “creative,” leaving it up to the reader’s own creativity to fill in the gaps.
The plot is predictable, sure, but it’s honestly refreshing to read an alternate history that doesn’t try to score any philosophical points and focuses on telling a complete story. Similarly, Lizbeth’s quest is to maintain the status quo, both in aiding her charges on their journey and in returning to the life she left to take this job. For her, it would be a triumph if nothing much changed. In a genre dominated by rags-to-riches stories of world dominance and great evils vanquished and old magics mastered, there’s more than enough room for a good story of normal people, just trying to stay alive.