A Civil War–era drama follows the adventures of two close-knit brothers.
Joe McSweeney is only 17 and has enjoyed a comfortable existence provided by his father’s entrepreneurialism in Tennessee, but he is still chomping at the bit to join the Confederate Army. In his eyes, the war is less a fight over slavery than a financially motivated power grab by a tyrannical North. His younger brother, Jim, decides to enlist with him, but shortly after their newly formed company heads for the Missouri border to join up with its battalion, they’re ambushed by Union soldiers. The two boys, and their only slightly older sergeant, O’Brien, are captured and sent to Camp Douglas, a detention center infamous for its gruesome conditions: “Horror stories began to circulate among the newcomers. Men were found dead every morning from frostbite, starvation, and even scurvy. The treatment of the prisoners was abhorrent at best.” The brothers, along with O’Brien, escape and make their way to Milwaukee to see their Uncle Steve. They all then travel to Dundee to purchase some property with a view to starting a tavern that is also a casino and brothel. However, Jim’s wound from his Army days and the grim remembrances of the war plague him. Also, as it becomes clear the South will lose, the brothers suffer from anti-Confederate sentiment, which threatens both their business and their lives. Debut author Nelson packs a lot of plot into this brief novella, and every page keeps it moving at an urgent pace. Also, it’s historically astute and sensitively explores dimensions of the Civil War that go beyond the contention over slavery. Much of the novel is driven by well-executed portrayals of pursuit and combat, and an appearance is made by the notorious James brothers in the book’s climactic conclusion. Some of the repetitions grow tiresome—Nelson too often refers to “the look” the brothers knowingly share. However, this is still an entertaining view of 19th-century America.
An action-packed Western brimming with historical authenticity.