THE BALLAD OF BLACK BART
By Loren D. Estleman
This being a fictionalized tale based on historical personages by one of the most enjoyable writers in the western field. But before launching into the review, let me confess that Mr. Estleman is one of those treasures we only discovered a few years ago much to our consternation as he as quickly become one of our favorite writers. With over eighty novels to his credit, ranging from mysteries, both historical and modern, to westerns, for which he has often been times recognized with numerous awards, the man just naturally knows how to spin a good yarn. And this latest is no exception.
The plot revolves around two men, one a daring and resourceful outlaw and the other the manhunter who was tasked with bringing him to justice. From 1875 to 1883, the poetry writing criminal known as Black Bart held up 28 Wells, Fargo stagecoaches. What is more remarkable is that he did these crimes on foot and armed only with an empty shotgun. All of which became a personal affront to company agent James B. Hume who became obsessed with catching the road agent no matter how long it took or how much he had to spend to do so.
It is the irony of the tale itself that Wells, Fargo, via Hume, ended up expending much more money in capturing Bart than he ever actually got away with. In the end, the book reads like a marvelous comedy as Estleman skillfully explores each man’s character and seeks to discover what motivated them in their chosen professions. That he finds similarities in their natures and world views is fascinating and by the time we’d reached the book’s middle there was no way we could possibly put it down.
Estleman richly deserves every award he has ever been given and “The Ballad of Black Bart” is a fitting example of why he is so well admired and loved. We’re still sorry we came to the party late, but we’re doing our best to make up for lost time. You might want to join the club with this truly wonderful title.