Jesse James & The Secret Legend of Captain Coytus
A college student walks into his professor’s office, expecting a topnotch grade for his paper detailing a surprising alternate timeline for the life of Jesse James. But when his professor gives him an F, the student claims he has undeniable proof to back up his assertions. And so, the story begins, as the reader is regaled with a full recounting of the lives of the outlaw Jesse James, his family, and the mysterious conniving stranger who helped make them part of history… a man known only as Captain Coytus.
Jesse James and the Secret Legend of Captain Coytus mines a tumultuous time in our nation’s history — the later years of the Civil War — for laughs, mixing elements of slapstick humor, romance, and alternate history to tell the sweeping story of a man who battled the Confederacy in his own curious way.
Mueck brings the same moral complexity and understanding to the characters (real and imagined) he did in his previous work, the crime thriller Myth Man, but tempers it with humor so shameless and punny that it practically wink-winks and nudge-nudges its way through the book. Yes, revenge is a common theme for several characters, and there are dark moments that add real pathos to some of the proceedings, but sex jokes, tongue-in-cheek references to the modern day, and a clever hero running circles around his lesser opponents gives this book a well-earned lighthearted feel.
The framing device of the college thesis paper is a bit clunky, and honestly, could’ve been done away with entirely. The professor is as charmless as Coytus is charming, and the student is intolerably smug. Coytus’s schemes, as well as the thoroughly enjoyable glimpses into the fictionalized versions of Frank and Jesse James, carry the book with ease.
In the end, Jesse James and the Secret Legend of Captain Coytus is more ambitious and has much more to offer than you might expect.