Reviewed by Keith Jones
I have read almost all of R. G. Yoho’s books and I must say that “Return to Matewan” goes to the head of the class. I am a fan of his work in general, but I must say that Yoho should observe what he did with this book and keep doing it.
This effort is a departure from his usual Western, instead meeting the old Western and a modern day East Coast setting half way: just after World War I in West Virginia. Yoho leverages on events during the height of the violent coal mining strikes in West Virginia, Kentucky and Colorado. Mine owners in those days would hire private detective agencies to provide security and otherwise protect their interests in those troubled times. Unfortunately the security and protection of their interests often equated to brutalizing and punishing any who dared oppose them. One of the largest and most powerful of these agencies was the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency.
Principal ground work for this book lies in the famous Battle of Matewan, where Sheriff Sid Hatfield and his deputies shot it out in the streets with the agents of Baldwin-Felts who were trying to evict miners from their homes in retaliation for labor organization actions. Two of the Felts brothers, siblings of co-owner Thomas Felts, were killed in this fight in which Hatfield prevailed. Felts would have the last say when his agents gunned an unarmed Hatfield down in the street on his way to a court appearance. Claiming self-defense none would be punished.
So, enter Billy Hatfield, illegitimate son of Sid Hatfield, and we are off to the races with a good old fashioned story of revenge. Add in Morgan Cobb, war hero, native son and top trouble shooter for the detective agency who is seeking a better life to escape from past sins committed in dealing with other such matters before and you also have a story of redemption. The dynamics between Hatfield and Cobb along with carefully crafted history and back story make this a tale worth spending the day with.
“Return to Matewan” is R. G. Yoho at his finest.