An average story on an impressive canvas.



Proffitt (Manchester Bluff, 2011) highlights forgotten aspects of local and national history in his second competent work of Civil War–era fiction.

In July 1867, narrator John Demsond, a Confederate cavalry veteran, alights from a train in Abilene, Kan. There, he meets Jason Alexander, a man formerly of Lincoln’s War Department whose father, John T. Alexander, is in the burgeoning cattle business. The family’s plan to drive longhorns from Texas to New York for meat packing has been hampered by outlaws’ and Native Americans’ stealing stock and by the disappearance of one of the hands, not to mention the malicious rumors about their cattle being sick. Demsond recently lost his job with the railway, so he volunteers to go down to Texas to investigate. Over the next decade, Demsond grows further embroiled in the Alexanders’ fortunes, and the rise of the cattle industry becomes a story of mysterious disease transmission, government corruption and corporate monopoly. From obscure historical footnotes, Proffitt has created an impressive backdrop. Enjoyable cameos from real-life figures such as Gen. Custer and Cornelius Vanderbilt add verve to what can seem at times like a tedious chronological survey. Unfortunately, more intriguing Reconstruction incidents (like the Great Chicago Fire, the financial crisis under President Ulysses S. Grant, the Tilden-Hayes election debacle and the Pacific Express train disaster) are often skimmed over in favor of less absorbing material, especially the rather dry proceedings of the 1868 American Convention of Cattle Commissioners, which are documented to an unnecessary level of archival detail. Ultimately, the cattlemen’s tale might have worked better as nonfiction—a group biography or a portrait of one of the major towns (Alexander, Ill., or Kansas City, Mo., the country’s new livestock center). Demsond is a particularly flat character, not compelling enough to warrant the choice of first-person over third-person-omniscient perspective, a viewpoint Proffitt nonetheless frequently employs to chronicle meetings of government conspirators. Solid descriptions of city filth and slaughterhouses don’t redeem dull dialogue and a peculiar reliance on ellipses. The ending, though strangely abrupt, prepares for the final book in this proposed trilogy.

An average story on an impressive canvas.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-1484081617

Page Count: 374

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2014

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.


The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.


In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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