Nick uses his amateur investigative skills and a computer algorithm to discover who murdered the actor playing Billy the Kid at an Old Wild West themed resort. Nick is a wannabe teenage detective who is travelling with his family to Deadwood Canyon where his dad has plans to go panning for gold, follow a Native American guide, stalk bison and learn to shoot and ride. His dad and his sister are very excited about experiencing the old wild west, as part of the vacation package includes actors and actresses that will be posing as famous wild west figures such as Annie Oakley, Black Bart, Billy the Kid etc. Nick isn't too thrilled about the vacation as he would have much preferred to spend the time playing video games or visiting Vegas. After many days of traveling by car, they finally reach the resort where they will be getting on a stagecoach which will take them to their cabin. While Nick is waiting for his stagecoach to arrive, he explores a barn and discovers a dead cowboy in the loft. He also sees a person speeding away on a stylish race car. Nick reports his findings to the marshal but everything is confusing since all the actors are really good at playing their roles – even the marshal. The marshal tells Nick that the cowboy is actually Billy the Kid and he was supposed to act like he was shot by someone. Nick is convinced the cowboy he saw was really killed. Later, he receives a mysterious note asking him to meet at Boot Hill at midnight if he wants to find the killer. The note is signed Billy the Kid.
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While Nick and his family are having lunch in a salon, they witness Jesse James having a showdown with a farmer. His family thinks it's all movie magic but Nick rushes out of the salon to see what's really going on. At the door, a gun is pointed to his head. The owner of the gun turns out to be a girl named Annie who was just jokingly pointing at gun at his head since he's not allowed to enter the stage where the performances happen. The marshal finds Nick again and he tells him there was no corpse in the barn and that Nick had probably just witnessed another scene from a performance. He asks Nick not to go around the resort telling everyone he witnessed a murder as it's bad for business. The marshal compromises by allowing Nick to become an honorary deputy and continuing to investigate the so-called murder if that's what he wants to do. While they are conversing, the marshal receives a voice mail message from the actor who plays Billy the Kid. The marshal is even more convinced that Nick didn't actually see a murder since Billy the Kid is fine.
Later that night, Nick sneaks out to Boot Hill. He is joined by Annie who had followed him. They watch a mysterious figure bury what looks like a body. Nick takes note of the location of the body and plans on telling the marshal to dig it up later as proof that the crime actually did occur and was not an act. Just as they are about to leave, they are discovered and the mysterious figure almost hits Nick with a shovel. Nick races back to the resort on the mysterious person's horse intent on telling the marshal what he witnessed but Annie tells him not to. Nick trusts that Annie will explain later.
While Nick waits for Annie to show up and explain herself, he interviews a security guard who mentions that the only person who might want to kill the Billy the Kid actor is the Jesse James actor because both actors were vying for a spot on an upcoming remake of the movie, Rio Bravo. Nick is also suspicious of the security guard himself who had conveniently left his station around the time the murder happened and who has claimed to have lent his gun to Jesse James.
Later, Annie finally meets up with Nick but she doesn't tell him any useful information about who the person could be that has buried the body on Boot Hill. When Nick threatens to tell the marshal, Annie pleads with him not to since she may have to explain why she was out at midnight and the marshal, who is also her uncle, is very strict. While Nick is enjoying a train ride, some actors dressed as members of the Dalton Gang including Daddy Dalton himself accost the passengers. After the performance, Nick finds a lead slug in his pocket. When the train reaches the station, Nick finds Jesse James and he interviews him. The man does a fine job convincing Nick he has no real motive. Jesse James suggests that the marshal himself might have a motive for killing Billy the Kid since Billy had lent him fifty grand to run this tourist resort but needed the money back.
Nick interviews the marshal again and learns that business is very poor due to inflation and tourism taxes. Nick asks the marshal to test the lead slug for him. Later, Nick interviews the deputy and learns that the security guard might have the biggest motive for killing the Billy the Kid actor since the actor often found the security guard sneaking off to drink in one of the abandoned mines.
Nick uses the marshal's computer to access a program that can crunch all the data he has collected about the potential suspects to spit out the most likely suspect of them all. It is apparently a program that Nick and his other amateur detective friends created that has been fed with real and fictional crime data. At dinner that night, Nick sees Annie arguing with Jesse James but when confronted about it, she explains they were arguing about how crazy Nick is. Nick asks Annie to come with him to the marshal's office after dinner to see who killed Billy the Kid. According to Nick's program, the most likely killer is Jesse James with the marshal ranked second. They are caught by the marshal who is appalled that they broke into his office and they are kicked out.
Later that night, Nick decides to investigate the abandoned mine. Annie shows up at the mine, too, and they are both trapped inside due to collapsing rock. Annie admits that Jesse had suggested that she visit the mine to see something mysterious but she doesn't know what. After walking a bit, Nick finds a paper bag with a gun that he suspects matches the make and model of the gun that killed Billy the Kid. As they walk further, a rattlesnake almost strikes them and Annie uses the gun to kill it. At the end of a tunnel, they see Jesse James who is dead from a rattlesnake bite. Soon after, Nick and Annie are rescued by the marshal and his men.
The marshal takes Nick to his office where he tells him the ballistics report on the lead slug which matches the gun Nick found in the cave. The marshal still thinks someone was just using the gun for target practice and he is angry that Nick caused so much trouble. He wants Nick and his family to leave the resort. But before they leave, the marshal asks Nick to talk to the law enforcement personnel who have arrived at the crime scene. One of the investigators tells Nick that Jesse James was bitten by a rattlesnake. She also mentions that Jesse may have been knocked unconscious before the rattlesnake bit. Nick suggestS they compare the rattlesnake venom from the dead rattlesnake that Annie shot with the rattlesnake poison in Jesse James' blood but they can't find the body of the rattlesnake. Nick finally tells the law enforcement officers about the body buried on Boot Hill.
Nick thinks he knows who the killer is and he makes sure all the members of the resort – his family, the marshal, the deputy, the security guard, Annie, the law enforcement personnel – are all present when he shows them where the body of Billy the Kid is buried. When they dig up the spot, however, all they find is the carcass of a dead bear. Nick is not daunted by this humiliation. He asks the deputy to help him one last time on a mad-dashed plan. Meanwhile, he warns Annie that whoever killed Billy the Kid is still around and she should watch her back.
Later that night, Nick sneaks back to the crime scene to the so-called dead end in the tunnel where he and Annie found Jesse James' body. He notices a door that is hiding a section of the cave that has rich veins of gold. Before he can do anything, the deputy appears with a gun pointed at Annie. Nick correctly deduces that the deputy had killed Billy the Kid and Jesse James in order to prevent them from telling others about the rich vein of gold in the minds. The deputy tells Nick that he meant to mislead Nick into thinking that he had buried a body on Boot Hill in order to throw Nick off his trail. He also explains that he recorded Billy the Kid's voice and made the fake phone call that made it seem like Billy was still alive. Just when the deputy thinks he can get away with his crime, Nick reveals that he has recorded the deputy's confession. Angered, the deputy fires at Nick but he only fires blanks. The marshal and the security guard arrive on the scene and arrest the deputy. The story ends with Nick and his family planning another themed resort trip.
Best part of story, including ending:
I thought the story was very entertaining to read since Nick had to navigate the confusing border between the characters the actors were playing and the true personalities of the actors. There were many moments in the story when actors like Jesse James were only behaving suspiciously because they were just being in-character and Nick had to figure out what was real and what was fake.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Nick and Annie were inside the abandoned mining shaft after the cave entrance caved in. It was a very suspenseful scene made spookier by the discovery of the dead body of Jesse James.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Nick is dedicated to the craft of detective work. The marshal gave him the position as honorary deputy just to indulge him, believing he was just bored and wanted some action but Nick took his job seriously and surprised everyone by the end of the story with all his discoveries. I like that Nick was a little odd and obsessive about the way he goes about doing his detective work as it makes his character and the overall story more interesting to read.