The Chivalry of Crime

Written by Desmond Barry
Review by John R. Vallely

Jesse James is one of those characters from the American frontier past whose terrifying charisma exerts as powerful a hold on contemporary readers as it did on those of earlier generations. A member of a hard-riding guerrilla band in the western part of the Confederate States in the U.S. Civil War, James spent the postwar years as an unrepentant rebel and hunted outlaw. Shot in the back by his friend Bob Ford, James has supplied novelists and screenwriters with countless plots for books and films ever since.

Desmond Barry, a native of Wales long fascinated by the West, offers a portrait of Jesse James as a haunted, violent man tortured by inner demons and energized by killing and the need to kill again. The narrative is replete with countless examples of the bloodlust that characterized James and his comrades. The novel begins with young Joshua Benyon and his fixation on owning a gun and joining the world inhabited by the gunmen of the immediate post-Civil War era. Barry then introduces Bob Ford, an unattractive freebooter whom Benyon idolizes as a gunfighter and the man who shot Jesse James. The Benyon-Ford tale abruptly becomes the saga of James and his experiences in the Civil War and later outlaw life. The author follows Benyon, Ford, and James as their lives unravel towards the inevitable climax.

The novel is not for the squeamish but it is rewarding for its view of the life and people of the time frame. Recommended for readers interested in the American frontier.