Chivalry of Crime

Desmond Barry, Author Little Brown and Company $24.45 (384p) ISBN 978-0-316-12038-8
A Welsh immigrant with a fascination for tales of the Old West, debut novelist Barry offers a detailed, well-researched and dynamic retelling of the stories of Jesse James and his murderer, Robert Ford. In the mining town of Weaver, Colo., in 1892, 15-year-old Joshua Benyon reads tabloid tales of the legendary outlaw and is frantic to own a gun. Within hours of acquiring a Colt. 45, the boy accidentally shoots his father and is charged with murder. Before he was in trouble, Joshua did some odd jobs for Ford, who is in town trying to set up a gambling hall. Ford visits Joshua in jail, telling the boy his version of Jesse James's life story. He begins when Jesse was 16 and joined Bill Anderson's guerrillas, who took revenge on Union soldiers ""who had burned Confederate crops and imprisoned Confederate women."" After the Civil War, Jesse and his outlaws become legendary bank and train robbers. Ford, a latecomer to the gang, is the one who finally kills the famous criminal. The story bogs down after Ford hires a lawyer for Joshua; the long trial scenes dilute what has been to this point a briskly paced, dramatic and potent narrative. The outcome of Joshua's trial is revealed, and the story traces the violent trajectory of Ford's life after he tries to scam reigning con man Soapy Smith. Occasional cliched moments detract, and both Ford and Joshua are sometimes too self-aware and introspective for their characters' bare-bones, hardscrabble lives. However, the chilling portrait of the contradictory Jesse James, who was a cruel, cold-blooded murderer as well as a loving family man, makes these minor weaknesses tolerable. Not since Rick Hansen's lyrical The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford has the legend of Jesse James been brought to life with such vigor. Author tour. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
Paperback - 480 pages - 978-0-316-12084-5
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