The adventures of a young lieutenant in the post–Civil War army are balanced with his sweet private life—in a debut from a Kansas-based professor near retirement age.
Lt. Michael Crofton’s young career takes him from Little Big Horn to the Zulu wars in South Africa via London and revolutionary Cuba, bringing onstage the likes of Rutherford Hayes and William Tecumseh Sherman, but there is neither grandiosity nor bombast. Coplin’s tone is so artfully unassuming and his hero, a West Point graduate from a prosperous Rhode Island family, is so genuinely modest that time flies dreamily in a tale that ends long before Crofton has worn out his welcome. And it all seems possible. As Coplin reminds us, the army in the 1870s had shrunk to 25,000, and Washington was still a small city, so the operators of the national machinery were just down the street. The very likable young Lt. Crofton’s story begins with his fortunate escape from the carnage at the detested General Custer’s last stand followed by his failure to dodge a bullet from the derringer in the hand of the breathtakingly pretty and young whore he will marry upon recovery. Leaving the skillfully sketched frontier, Crofton puts in purgatorial time sorting through army supplies with politically wired Lt. Sorenson. Sorenson’s congressional connections put the young men into the thick of an unsanctioned, possibly presidential plot to meddle in the outcome of Cuban revolutionary activities—a plot that ends as inconclusively as all Cuban plots tend to. More purgatory follows, this time in the national cemetery, and then it’s off to England through the worst of winter on a clipper ship, followed by a stint with the King’s Guards and a suicidal stand against the Zulus. As the adventures pile up, Crofton pines for his sweet young family. None of this is new, really, but it is all so fresh as narrated by the superbly modest soldier that it seems like—well—life.
Excellent work by a self-described “overnight success” who’s spent the past 40 years trying to get a novel published.