A novel set during the Civil War though not a Civil War story per se—Murkoff (Waterborne, 2004) is interested in character development rather than in brass, bayonets and battles.
Dr. Will Harp has seen some action in the Indian Wars out west, but when the novel opens in June of 1864 he’s returning home to New York State. While he tries to live a quiet life, he tends to be a still point of the turning world as other characters with more energetic agendas swirl around him. Will has an interest in paleontology, and when he finds an interesting discovery being made nearby, he buys up the land so he can have freedom to indulge his scientific curiosity. Throughout much of the narrative he’s preoccupied with reclaiming the bones of a mastodon on this land. Meanwhile, Grieves, a smarmy entrepreneur, covets this same property because for a long time he’s been planning to build a hotel on it, but Will remains adamant about not selling. Working for the entrepreneur is Mickey Blessing, a pleasantly sadistic enforcer whose name stands in ironic counterpoint to his occupation—breaking the arms, legs and heads of those who cross Grieves’s path. Mickey’s sister, Jane, patiently awaits the return of her lover, Frank Quinn, from the war, but his death is eventually reported, and she starts to turn to Will for comfort. Street kid Coley Hinds at first becomes Mickey’s apprentice, but when Mickey’s techniques get particularly brutal, Coley runs away and joins Will at the dig. This novel has a massive feel to it, for the author switches easily and frequently from character to character as their lives unfold, with the Civil War a rumble in the distance.
Murkoff’s prose is sure to be compared to that of Charles Frazier—and he writes densely, including enough characters and plot turns for three novels.