All Honest Men

Written by Claude Stanush Michele Stanush
Review by Steve Lewis

Back in the 1970s the father half of this father-daughter writing team became a close friend of Willis Newton, leader of one of the most successful gang of outlaws of the 1920s. Based on this association, Claude co-wrote the screenplay for The Newton Boys, a 1998 movie developed from The Newton Boys: Portrait of an Outlaw Gang by Willis Newton, Joe Newton and Claude Stanush, an oral autobiography published in 1994.

Not having seen the earlier book, I don’t know what’s in the new book that wasn’t in the old one. This one’s presented as a fictional memoir, told as if in the words of Willis Newton himself, in a southwestern vernacular that’s as keen and precise as the blue in a western summer sky.

The mastermind behind the biggest train robbery in US history, that of the Chicago Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway in 1924, Willis died in 1979, never apologizing for his past. He claimed he and his brothers were simply businessmen, and contemptuous of thugs like Al Capone.

It’s entertaining reading — Bonnie and Clyde without the bloodshed — or not as much — but having to stick to the facts, there aren’t the twists and turns of the plot there’d be in an entirely fictional piece of work. In the process, though, the Stanushes give us an intimate, down-to-earth picture of life in the western United States in the early 1900s, from fields bursting with cotton in the Texas flatlands to the streets of a swinging and sinful Chicago, bursting with crime.

There’s some suspense at the end, however, as things go bad after the train robbery. Will the brothers survive the resulting manhunt? Read and find out — as surprisingly enough, while widely known in their time, hardly anybody remembers the Newton gang today.