Plodding narrative and slack writing plague this account of the fierce 1870s events that set the stage for the legends surrounding Billy the Kid. Hoping, in part, to discern the true character of William Henry Bonney, Jacobsen, a New Mexico assistant attorney general, relates the complicated circumstances and events comprising the Lincoln County War. Billy the Kid was one of the Regulators, a gang of ruffians (or, Jacobsen asks, were they concerned citizens?) aiding an English businessman, John Tunstall, in his feud with The House, the local political machine. Founded by Lawrence Murphy in 1873, The House was a store and a commodities brokerage that owned the only federal contracts within 200 miles. It was also a bank that protected its own monopoly, and Murphy was also the local probate judge. Tunstall, all of 24, dared to challenge The House by establishing his own ""store"" and ranch. He went into business with Alexander McSween, a former House attorney who'd been recently fired in a squabble over the estate of Murphy's late partner. Battle was joined in the courts, on the range, and in petty street fights. Both sides enlisted quasi-legal posses to harass and ""attach"" property belonging to the opposition; one such posse killed Tunstall in February 1878 while repossessing his ranch and cattle. The Regulators, working for McSween, retaliated by occupying the town of Lincoln. The ensuing Five Days' Battle, in which US Army troops supported The House, resulted in McSween's death in a hail of gunfire. Jacobsen follows the story through contemporary news accounts, court proceedings, and correspondence up to 1881, when Billy the Kid was killed by avaricious Sheriff Pat Garrett. Perceptive, methodical, and dull.