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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Follett's fans will enjoy this jaunt through the days before England was merry.


Murder, sex, and unholy ambition threaten to overwhelm the glimmers of light in Dark Ages England in this prequel to The Pillars of the Earth (1989).

A Viking raid in 997 C.E. kills Edgar’s one true love, Sungifu, and he vows never to love another—but come on, he’s only 18. The young man is a talented builder who has strong personal values. Weighing the consequences of helping a slave escape, he muses, “Perhaps there were principles more important than the rule of law.” Meanwhile, Lady Ragna is a beautiful French noblewoman who comes to Shiring, marries the local ealdorman, Wilwulf, and starts a family. Much of the action takes place in Dreng’s Ferry, a tiny hamlet with “half a dozen houses and a church.” Dreng is a venal, vicious ferryman who hurls his slave’s newborn child into a river and is only one of several characters whose death readers will eagerly root for. Bishop Wynstan lusts to become an archbishop and will crush anyone who stands in his way. He clashes with Ragna as she announces she is lord of the Vale of Outhen. “Wait!” he says to the people, “Are you going to be ruled by a mere woman?” (Wynstan’s fate is delicious.) Aldred is a kindly monk who harbors an unrequited love for Edgar, who in turn loves Ragna but knows it’s hopeless: Although widowed after Wilwulf’s sudden death, she remains above Edgar’s station. There are plenty of other colorful people in this richly told, complex story: slaves, rapists, fornicators, nobles, murderers, kind and decent people, and men of the cloth with “Whore’s Leprosy.” The plot at its core, though, is boy meets girl—OK, Edgar meets Ragna—and a whole lot of trouble stands in the way of their happiness. They are attractive and sympathetic protagonists, and more’s the pity they’re stuck in the 11th century. Readers may guess the ending well before Page 900—yes, it’s that long—but Follett is a powerful storyteller who will hold their attention anyway.

Follett's fans will enjoy this jaunt through the days before England was merry.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-595498-9

Page Count: 928

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.


In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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