I Rode with Jesse James
By W.R. Benton
Loose Cannon Ent., November 2013
In a fiercely contested Missouri, pro-Union and Confederate militias clash in bouts of guerrilla warfare and cross-border raids as they battle for control of the state. Disaffected confederate soldier Jim Light, joins up with the infamous Quantrill’s Raiders a mere two weeks before they attack and massacre the townsfolk of Lawrence, Kansas - a Union stronghold. When they finish, Kansas is truly "Bloody Kansas."
As the end of the War draws near, Jim deserts the Southern Army. With the assistance of a woman who's sympathetic to the lost cause, he tries to start a new life. The peace he yearns for quickly slips away after the burning of his farm and hanging of his good friend by Union forces. Jim joins up with ex-fellow raider Jesse James to seek revenge on the murderous Yankees. Riding with the James Gang, he robs banks, and stagecoaches, sees action in Northfield, Minnesota and even participates in the first train robbery in history.
The James Gang rode their way into legend, but for Jim Light will it all end along-side his friend in a small white house, or will he somehow find a path back to the simple quiet life circumstance and war robbed him of?
Written in the first person this is a tough story set in brutal times. The first part of the book deals with Jim Light’s experiences in the Civil War, his part in the raid on Lawrence filling him with fear as he’s sure the Union army will have no mercy for those they believe took part in the attack. It’s during this time Jim meets the James brothers and Cole Younger, although they don’t have much of a role to play during this time of Light’s life.
Even after the War is over Light is still fearful of Union vengeance, so only comes out of hiding to ride with the James gang as he needs money. W.R. Benton illustrates extremely well the changes Jesse James goes through from not wanting to kill during their robberies to merciless shooting down anyone whenever he feels like it and how this effects Light's impressions of the man.
As expected with a story that takes place during real events there is a lot of fascinating background information included. Benton inserts this into his story easily and at no time do you feel you are sitting in a history lesson, it all becomes part of the natural flow of the tale.
Benton’s descriptions are particularly good, be they of landscapes, emotions, or the savagery of battles. As already mentioned about Jesse James, Benton’s character studies are excellent too. Most of them being a perfect balance between good and bad, and depending on circumstances, seeing which way they gravitate more towards makes for absorbing reading.
If you like westerns that are based around real people and true events then this is a book not to be missed…and to those who just enjoy fast-paced, action-packed, well-told westerns then this is well worth considering for your next read.