Little Big Horn goes Custer’s way in this lively “what if” novel.
Outnumbered and outgunned, Lieutenant-Colonel (Brevet Major-General) George Armstrong Custer gets lucky and Sitting Bull gets snookered here. Suddenly, that great chief finds himself in an untenable position. Custer, on a tactical roll, has been able to surround 600 women and children, making clear the grisly end he has in mind for them if the Sioux refuse to surrender. Sitting Bull yields, Custer triumphs where almost no one expected him to, and the rest is alternative history Skimin-Moody style. For a while, then, fortune continues to beam on the erstwhile “boy general.” James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the powerfully persuasive New York Herald, makes a shrewd political judgment, and almost before he knows it, Custer is the Democratic nominee for President. The 1880 election is close, but Custer defeats James Garfield and launches his jingoistic “New American Empire”—expansionism without apology. Neck-deep in clover now, Custer has a wonderful time. He dallies with the incomparable, corruptible Lily Langtry, charms Susan B. Anthony, starts a war with Spain. But unknown to him, he’s made a resourceful, ferocious, implacable enemy. At the Battle of Little Big Horn, Red Elk, a Sioux warrior, saw his young, pregnant wife mercilessly slaughtered, and as a result has vowed vengeance on the leader of the Long Knives. So Custer’s luck races Red Elk’s oath, and the devil take the hindmost.
Skimin is an experienced hand at the “might have been” (Apache Autumn, 1993, etc.), and backstopped by researcher Moody, he gives us a plausible Custer, flawed, flamboyant, and thoroughly entertaining.