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.