Wm Morrow/Harper Collins, 2000, $24.00, 369 pages, ISBN 0-380-97749-4
It’s been such a busy couple of weeks in fact, that I haven’t had time to read much. But hey! Don’t worry, I’ve got a great MBR anyhow; it’s a selection from my best books of the year list and historical fiction to boot. Wildwood Boys highlights the life of William T. Anderson, a border rider, guerilla fighter and bushwhacker . . . one of Quantrill’s raiders, in Kansas and Missouri during the American Civil War, cohort of Jesse James . . . and known to all the world as “Bloody Bill”, by author James Carlos Blake.
Anderson was born in Missouri and grew up in eastern Kansas during the 1850’s, coming of age just as the Civil War began, right in the middle of the bitterly disputed Kansas-Missouri fighting. Both states had divided loyalties between the north and south as free and slave state advocates poured into both territories during the antebellum period. While massive battles were taking place in the east, guerilla warfare was the norm in the borderlands, because the Federals controlled the cities, but Confederates held the wildwood country. As yankee Jayhawkers and Redlegs raided in Missouri, rebel fighters led by Quantrill and others took vengeance on northern sympathizers and wreaked havoc on union troops at every opportunity.
Blake brings out the human story of Anderson, one of the most notorious, ruthless and feared of the “Missouri Bushwhackers,” but at the same time an enigma, a man of honor, love and sorrow. James Carlos Burke isn’t an author who’ll appeal to everyone as his subjects and writing style are of a gritty, sometimes coarse nature, but at the same time they’re written with a poetic lyrician. As one reviewer put it, “Nobody does blood and guts better.” I couldn’t agree more, or say it better. All of his books, from The Pistoleer, about John Wesley Hardin, to the eponymously titled The Killings of Stanley Ketchel are all favorites of mine. If you enjoy action-adventure novels with some period details thrown in, Blake is not to be missed. A warning: he’s not a prolific writer churning out book after book like some, so savor each title. It’s six years since Stanley Ketchel. I’ll review his newest, Country of the Bad Wolfes in the near future. I can hardly wait.