Friday, February 2, 2018

Forgotten Books: MANASSAS by James Reasoner (1999)

We take time out from our ongoing series BILL CRIDER goes to BOUCHERCON (see the first four instalments HERE) to look at this book by Bill’s pal James Reasoner. I’m sure Bill won’t mind. Part 5 of Bill at Bouchercon (2000-01) will appear on Sunday. Meanwhile, for those of you jonesing for more photos of Bill, we present several of he and James together (most shamelessly lifted from Bill’s blog).

My favorite James Reasoner novels are the ones with his own name on them. His name is on this one, and the following nine volumes of The Civil War Battle Series, and they’re all damn good. Though officially a “series,” it’s really one humungous meganovel, following the trials and tribulations of one Virginia farm family from the beginning to the end of the war. It would make a great 10-part miniseries for one of the cable networks. (Are you listening, HBO?)

We see a skilled novelist at work here, introducing us to a cast of strong and varied personalities, sure to provide plenty of drama as the saga rolls on.

William Shakespeare Brannon is the Culpepper County sheriff, and the oldest still at home. Macbeth Brannon is a horse whisperer. Titus Andronicus Brannon, an expert tracker and a crack rifle shot, is tragically in love with a girl out of his league. Henry Brannon, the youngest, is still trying to find himself. Their footloose brother, Coriolanus Troilus Brannon has gone West to seek his fortune, and we won’t actually meet him until Book 2. 

Seventeen-year-old Cordelia Brannon is the prettiest girl in the county, and not as empty-headed as her brothers think. Riding herd on them all is their fiercely religious mother Abigail, still bitter over the antics of their late father. And making life difficult for them all are the no-account, thieving and killing Fogarty brothers. (The books were published between 1999 and 2003. Was James listening to Credence at the time?)

There's a cool passage when the war starts:

The ticket agent shouted, "The word just came over the wire! We've captured Fort Sumter! It's war, boys, war!"
     "Cry havoc," Will muttered, quoting his namesake, "'and let slip the dogs of war . . . ,'" as people cheered and shot off guns.
     Those dogs were sure barking now.

Those opening shots of the war take place offstage, but we then ride to  Manassas—the first great battle—with Will Brannon, a newly minted captain of the Culpepper Catamounts in Brigarier General Thomas Jackson’s Thirty-third Virginia. And it’s a good thing Will is there, because without him Jackson may not have been in position to be standing "like a stone wall” and earn his catchy nickname. We’re also introduced to the intriguing notion that the famous “stone wall” comment, uttered by the soon-to-be-deceased Confederate General Bee, may not have intended as a compliment. I don’t recall encountering that before.

The battle scene is nicely handled, and leaves me looking forward to many more. I’ll be finding them in the rest of the saga: Shiloh, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Shenandoah, Savannah and Appomattox.

James and Bill, Western Writers of America conference, 1992

Brownsville, Texas, 1980, with Angela and Allen Crider
and the Howard family

Armadillocon 2017: Dave Hardy, Dwight Simms, Joe Lansdale, Lawrence Pearson, James, Bill, Scott Cupp

Bouchercon 2002: James, Joe Lansdale, Bill, Steve Mertz 
(photo by Art Scott)


Charles Gramlich said...

I have this one but have not read it. I still have several of James's books lying around unread, though I have read quite a few as well

George said...

I agree with you, James Reasoner's Civil War series would make a great TV series. Netflix needs to check these wonderful book out!

Cap'n Bob said...

I want to collect all of them before I start the series. All I need is to find what I did with the ones I have and buy the others. No small task.