Rawhide Jake: Learning the Ropes (The Life and Times of Detective Jonas V. Brighton, 1)

Written by J.D. Arnold
Review by Tom Vallar

From prisoner 1080 in a jail on the Kansas plains, to a noted stock detective tracking down cattle rustlers and bringing them to justice dead or alive, Jonas Broughton epitomizes the Wild West in the 1880s. In his series, The Life and Times of Detective Jonas V. Broughton, J. D. Arnold fictionalizes the backstory of the man most famous for gunning down Ike Clanton in Arizona (still to come in Book Three).

Jonas intended to save up to buy the mules his partners stole, but he is jailed as an accessory for their crime, and is released early for good behavior despite killing a fellow inmate in self-defense. With his jail earnings from blacksmithing and wagon-making, he follows a newspaper story and joins up with a female detective who has made a name for herself. They are successful until Jennie runs off with a former boyfriend and Jonas is left to fend for himself. To escape time for mail-tampering to solve a case, he agrees to be jailed with the infamous Frank James in an unsuccessful attempt to get James to confess to his crimes.

Jake’s real break comes from a handbill: James Loving needs detectives to chase down cattle rustlers in Texas. Taking advantage of Jake’s ostensibly lawless past, Loving hires him for undercover work among the rustlers. He also apprentices Jake to Wes Wilson, his best detective stationed about 30 miles west of Loving’s ranch between the Chisholm and Dodge City Trails. Jake quickly absorbs Wes’s wisdom, and takes to range work despite hardships like snow squalls. He tames the toughest horse on the ranch (sharing some of the hard candy Jake craves) and, with Wes’s help, tracks down and captures his first thieves.

Once Jake goes undercover, he employs bravado to start a side business installing barbed wire on the Texas prairie. He makes friends with all manner of people, talking their language and feeling their pain. This leads him to employ Chinese labor on his wire gang while recovering 700 head of rustled cattle and escaping death at least three times.

Arnold’s storytelling style is as rough-and-tumble as his hero. Jake can adapt his language and demeanor to his audience at the drop of a hat, lending him a level of authenticity that makes his deeds seem easier than they are. This ability strains credibility at times, but Arnold has created an endearing character, and I look forward to his Arizona adventures.