Blake (The Pistoleer, 1995, etc.) again demonstrates his talent for mingling historical fact with fiction, in the case here of the Mexican War and the antebellum frontier. Brothers John and Edward Little return to their remote north Florida farm from a search for their runaway sister only to find their father on a murderous rampage. The boys defend themselves and kill their father. Their mother, meanwhile, has fled. Left alone, the teenagers set out for Texas, but they become separated in New Orleans. John, who can't control his violent nature, kills a man and, to escape hanging, joins Zachary Taylor's Mexican War-bound army. Edward, in the meantime, also commits murder but flees to Texas and after several bloody adventures ends up in Mexico. He first joins a company of scalp-hunters, then takes up with a band of Mexican bandits who are ultimately impressed into US Service as the infamous Spy Company. For his part, John deserts the army and joins the St. Patrick's Brigade, composed of Americans (mostly Irishmen) fighting on the Mexican side. Shifting between the brothers' parallel stories, Blake offers a virtual encyclopedia of graphic violence. People are shot, clubbed, knifed, eviscerated, castrated, decapitated, impaled, flayed alive, hanged, scalped, dismembered, blown up, and immolated. And sexual perversions run the gamut from rape to sodomy to incest and necrophilia; only bestiality is omitted. Brutality and grotesque images are played out against invariably blood-red sunsets and dawns. Blake's assured prose, knowledge of history, and fast-paced story are definite pluses, but in its last third the complexities of the war and the redundancy of mind-numbing violence overwhelm the characters, finally rendering them rather absurd.