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Book review: ‘Heresy’

April 17, 2020 by Abigail Bostwick

“Heresy” by Melissa Lenhardt is a western. There will be mayhem, shootouts and standoffs. There will be horseback races, whiskey and tired cowboys at the end of the day. Cattlerustlers who need to be set straight. The only difference? Women get all the action in this novel. 

It is the first and only all-female gang in the West. Though the newspapers won’t give the ladies proper credit, these all-out women have a score to settle and no one to impress. It is a bold story of feminism with diverse characters and a narrative in the western lit genre not often seen — from the point of view of feminism. 

Margaret Parker and Hattie LaCour never intended to become outlaws. Thrown off their ranch by a greedy and half-crazed cattleman, the family is left poor and without options. As women, the hit is harder. They can either marry, prostitute or go outlaw. With their small group of makeshift family, a gang is formed and they begin to make a series of heists across the west. 

Even if the news won’t give the ladies credit, the illegal activities do not go unnoticed. Investigators are on their tail, a rival male gang has it out for them and infighting and secrets threatened to pull apart their thread. The gang must find a way to finish one last job to protect their land and family all while avoiding being caught and hanged. 

The novel is a feminist western, with a straightforward yet thoughtful take on what would have happened in those days to a gang of women. 

Lenhardt is an engaging storyteller with a wide berth of novels in print, each featuring an array of unlikely characters in different situations that make the reader want to keep turning the pages and watch for her next novel to see what she comes up with next. She is further the author of the Sawbones historical fiction series, and the Jack McBride mystery series.

“This story starts, like so many others, in an attic. One thing I’ve learned as a historian is that stories, especially ones about the forgotten, are rarely told in a straight line. It would be wonderful if in the process of cleaning out the house of a dearly departed elderly relative, an heir disgruntled with the enormous task of sifting through decades of memories discovered a treasure trove of correspondence, journals and newspaper articles bundled together in order, with extant copies of letters both to and from to give clarity to the story. That rarely happens.”

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