The Alien is trying to eat this lump of dead tree matter. I agree with the Alien.
This isn't a book trying to be a movie. This isn't a movie pretending to be a book. This IS a movie. It doesn't want to be a book, and it's thrashing and screaming and in rank bloody denial about the fact that there are no moving pictures involved.
You've seen it before: a succession of stoked boilers streaking towards the screen, intercut with close-ups of charging wheels and plunging drive rods. On the soundtrack, short cello strokes imitate the chomping of pistons and steam whistles blast from the brass. Depot signs loom at us from the far perspective...
And so on. And so forth. That is one of the tamer passages. I stopped before it got to the montage of robberies. There's even a travel montage in this book, you know, when there's an overlay of the map with a line moving across it to indicate the movement of characters from one place to another. Yeah. One of them. In a book.
I know I've harped on about respecting the medium you use and all that, but this just stumped me. I think I was too shocked at just how brazenly "THIS IS A MOVIE" the book was to be affronted. If you're going to do something, then do it properly, and this is a movie in an all balls out sort of way.
Still. It's a book. Not a great one at that. The title indicates that Johnny Vermillion is the centre role, but he isn't. Far more POV time is spent on his accomplices, who are far more interesting than he is. Vermillion has Mary Sue stamped all over his face. The others, while skirting the realms of cliche, are quite well drawn and the dynamic between them is terribly amusing. Together, they form a travelling theatre troupe which is really just a cover for the fact that they're bank robbers, and good at being both.
The story isn't much to speak of; they're criminals, they're in danger of getting caught by either the law or the other criminals whose toes they're stepping on. Nothing particularly new is attempted with the story, or the characters, and it rolls on pretending to be a movie so there's pretty much sweet fanny all in terms of proper climax and resolution. Mildly intriguing character conflicts are seeded, and then entirely ignored and forgotten.
It could be said that Estleman is deliberately playing with the great many cliches that Westerns are open to, but he fails to then do anything new with them. He fails to do anything with them at all. The story just...stops. There are plenty of nice elements, but they don't gel together as a whole.
Which isn't to say it wasn't fun, but...fuck. It isn't a movie, it's a book.
Verdict: You know, I can't recommend this as fluff, because it's just...wrong.