The James Boys
The premise is that outlaws Jesse and Frank James were actually Rob and Wilky, black sheep younger brothers of intellectuals William and Henry James. Henry, returning from a trip West via train in 1876, meets Elena Hite, a proto-feminist and believer in free love, who is reading his latest novel. But it happens to be the train the James gang selects to hold up. Henry recognizes Rob/Jesse, whereupon the gang forces him to accompany them to their hideout. Elena tags along, pretending to be Henry’s wife, but she soon becomes sexually involved with Jesse on the sly.
Henry is then compelled to participate in the gang’s ill-fated raid of Northfield, Minnesota. Elena, kicked out of the hideout when the men leave for the raid, returns East. Her railroad magnate father sends her to consult William James for psychological help, who recommends a tour of Europe, sending Elena off with his sister Alice as chaperone. In Paris they encounter Henry, who has escaped the gang and fled the country, tailed by noted detective William Pinkerton. Events take a dramatic turn when, back in Boston, Elena’s father is about to hand over a large amount of gold to Harvard University to start a laboratory for William. Pinkerton uses the occasion to plan a trap for the Jameses.
Western fans expecting straightforward action won’t find it here, as Liebmann-Smith includes many a digression, such as the history of Northfield, long backstories of the characters, and minutiae such as detailed lists of food on a buffet table. Readers may want to have a dictionary at hand, as they will encounter the likes of “estival” and “odobenidan.” There were some humorous passages, but overall, Liebmann-Smith didn’t sell me on his premise, and I didn’t care about the characters.