Books by Speer Morgan

Released: Oct. 31, 1998

Morgan (The Assemblers, 1986, etc.) brings back mixed-blood, Choctaw orphan Tom Freshour from 1994's The Whipping Boy and places him as a 45-year-old prosecuting attorney on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border in 1935. A box of wax cylinders is discovered in the modern era, holding Tom Freshour's Dictaphone recordings that tell of a set of crimes that took place in 1935 but which can't be revealed during Freshour's lifetime. When multimillionaire recluse Lee Guessner is found murdered in his truck, Lorraine —Rainy— Davis, a widow, returns to Fort Smith as the millionaire's dazed inheritor. As it happens, Rainy and Guessner were on an archaeological dig together in the Peten Jungle in Guatemala, where Guessner took a liking to Rainy and talked fervently about artifacts back in Oklahoma's Spiro Mound. He was, she says, a flaming gay and bored her stiff. Though Guessner had no relatives or friends, the reason for Rainy's inheritance seems a total mystery. Because of certain territorial considerations, Judge Manny Stone assigns the murder investigation to Freshour, who discovers that Rainy is the daughter of Samantha King, the mysterious and alluring older woman he'd been ecstatically in love with when he was 15. Why isn't Sheriff Kenny Seabolt in charge of the investigation? The judge's reasons revolve partly around the pre-Colombian artifacts found (or, rather, bought) by Guessner at the Spiro Mound. The Mound houses an Indian temple where diggers find a feathered cape that seems strangely brilliant for having been buried perhaps 900 years. Has the mound been salted? Or might there be a more historical explanation for these artifacts from Central American tribes? Then a man dies in a car explosion, and many members of an Indian tribe die of arsenic poisoning. Can these be the deeds of greedy oilmen? Morgan's best yet, spiced with sex and an emphasis on the lore of artifacts to balance the skullduggery. Read full book review >
THE WHIPPING BOY by Speer Morgan
Released: May 11, 1994

A young Indian boy coming of age in the late-19th-century Oklahoma Territory and Arkansas is depicted in this sensitive but often plodding and listless novel by the author of The Assemblers (1986). As a teenager, Tom Freshour, a mixed-blood Choctaw Indian, is brought by the orphanage where he has been raised to Fort Smith, Arkansas, to witness, along with other foundlings, one of the last executions ordered by Isaac Parker, the famed ``hanging judge.'' Spotted by a local merchant in need of young boys to serve as couriers, Tom and two of his friends are hired, and the headmaster of the orphanage is just as glad to be rid of three mouths to feed. Attached to a traveling hardware drummer named W.W. ``Jake'' Jaycox, Tom travels between the new Oklahoma Territory, the Indian Nations, and Fort Smith to help sell hardware and collect debts. Like any hero of a coming-of-age tale, Tom discovers the size of the world, the allure and incomprehensibility of the other sex, and, eventually, something about the nature of good and evil. He finds in the old salesman the only friend he's ever really known. Only gradually does the deep cruelty of the church-run orphanage where he was brought up emerge. Stripes on his back testify to the accuracy of the book's title. A freak accident brings the mysterious and alluring Samantha ``Sam'' King into the lives of Tom and his mentor. Despite its sometimes grim subject matter and Morgan's attempt to evoke a sense of historical gravity in his portrait of the American West on the cusp of modernity, this is a surprisingly inconsequential novel. (Author tour) Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 1994

In a look at a dimension of war that historians rarely cover- -the life of the ordinary soldier—Missouri Review ed. Morgan (The Assemblers, etc.) and managing ed. Michalson offer extracts of seven diaries, from the American Revolution to the Gulf conflict. The diarists are a diverse group: Joseph Plumb Martin was a farm boy from Connecticut when, in 1776, he joined the Continental Army in search of adventure; Amy Whitgreen was a Chicago nurse when, in 1898, she went to Cuba to combat yellow fever among US troops engaged in the Spanish-American War; Joseph Abodeely was an idealistic ROTC man from Arizona when he traveled to Vietnam. The diaries, too, vary in style and quality: Martin's, e.g., isn't a diary at all but a memoir, written years after the Revolution, while the Civil War account of Massachusetts soldier George Sargent was composed in the field, albeit edited and expanded after the fact. Meanwhile, Charles Ponton's WW I diary and Everett Fulton's WW II record of the air war in the Pacific are terse, immediate, and without literary embellishment, written by men on the run; Vietnam soldier Abodeely, however, occasionally allows himself some reflections on the future and on his feelings about the war. Further along, Duane Lee Smith's Gulf War diary proves a straightforward, sometimes cynical account of the long wait and short burst of action that marked that conflict. Common to all are the persistent verities of a soldier's life—boredom, menial tasks, and the petty irritations, absurdities, and amusements of camp life—which, it seems, loom larger in the lives of nearly all the diarists than do the fear and excitement of combat itself. A powerful record of seven American wars, told in the words of those who lived through them. (First printing of 15,000) Read full book review >