A historical novel about 19th-century vigilantes that re-creates a lost world as it morally instructs.


A dangerous clan wreaks havoc in post-bellum Louisiana.

Louisiana author Blake (Dark Bayou, 2013, etc.) returns with a convincingly researched tale of confidence betrayed and blood spilled. After the U.S. Army retreats from the Deep South in the wake of the Civil War, clans of vigilantes arise from the ruins of the Confederate Army. Some are peacekeeping, some purely racist, and others, like the West-Kimbrell clan, are entirely murderous. “They hated their fellow stranger with a purity that rivaled most men’s love for a beautiful woman,” Blake writes, proceeding to relate the multifarious misdeeds of a dangerous band of outlaws. The group includes Jackson Lawson (ironically nicknamed “Laws”) Kimbrell, a lethal hypocrite with “a wild soul and mean as a bull”; his philosophical Uncle Dan; and Sunday school teacher John West, who “possessed a disarming gentleman’s charm that misled folks into a false sense of trust.” The gang steals horses, kills children, and removes whole families from history. All of this is relayed to the reader in 1913 by the ancient Caleb “CS” Cole, whose daddy, Wallace Cole, along with countervigilante Jim Maybin, played a major role in the clan’s final chapter. Herein, the tastes and sensations of central Louisiana in the 19th century (and, to some extent, the state today) are revived and relived: the ubiquitous religiosity, the smell of pine and mud, the “squirrel mulligan, sausage gumbo, chicken n’ dumplings and raccoon stew.” This novel is a history lesson. Unfortunately, this can at times get in the way of it being a novel. “Why they did this to their fellow man, I can’t tell you,” CS tells the reader, but the job of a novelist is not merely to question motives but to explore them. The psychology of the gang is never pursued, and this remains a missed opportunity. Still, when read as a lightly fictionalized history, in the tradition of Bruce Duffy’s novels and Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, this hybrid beast of a book proves successful in bringing the past alive and weaving a sinister bedtime story for readers. 

A historical novel about 19th-century vigilantes that re-creates a lost world as it morally instructs. 

Pub Date: Dec. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5115-9018-1

Page Count: 348

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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