UNDER OUTLAW FLAGS by James Reasoner
I don’t know how I missed James Reasoner’s Under Outlaw Flags when it first came out, but I did. Thankfully, through the magic of Kindle, I easily rectified that deficiency.
James and I are roughly the same age, but I’m better looking. Being the same age, we also grew up on a lot of the same books in our formative years. Readers who know what to look for can easily pick up on the writing tells really behind in our fiction. Such as Reasoner’s reference to two World War I flying aces in this novel. I’m talking about Wentworth and Allard, and pulpsters among those of you reading this will know that they are the Spider and the Shadow respectively.
I expected a good story when I sat down with this one. What I didn’t expect was the old school storytelling that Reasoner immediately launches into. He uses a first person narrative that draws a reader in effortlessly. From the first page I felt like I knew Drew Matthews and his cohorts in the Tacker Gang, one of the last cowboy bank robbing gangs in the twentieth century.
Reasoner starts out in what was still wild and woolly Colorado, takes a tour through a more metropolitan Denver, then ends up in Texas and Paris. The narrative is easy to read and compelling, and the Tacker Gang soon becomes both larger than life and at once easily guys you would know.
I was anxious for the World War I stuff to begin, but Reasoner doesn’t rush this story. There’s a detailed view of how the world was back in 1917, and how men fit into it. These are the years when the cowboy way of life started getting up fenced in and the United States lost a good deal of its frontier heritage. You can actually feel it slipping away in these pages.
Since Reasoner lives in Texas, his love for that state and the land is apparent and shows during the pages where Drew and his buddies are stationed in Ft. Worth for military training. Reasoner obviously did a lot of research to make sure he gets everything right regarding the military and the everyday thinking about the war. I’m a bit of a history buff myself, but I still learned a lot in addition to having a good time.
Under Outlaw Flags is a coming of age story of sorts, a small scale romance, and a lamentation of a world that we have put aside in our march to the future. The pacing is pure and simple, and it goes down like a drink of cool water on a hot day. I regretted finishing the book, but I loved every page that I spent with it.