Echoes of Distant Thunder
By Frank P. Slaughter
By Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli
Youre going to like Will Castor. This simple Civil War soldier is going to captivate you and show you a very different kind of war. Echoes of Distant Thunder by Frank P. Slaughter isnt one of those big Civil War books were all used to, but something much smaller and more personal, a look into the depths and scope of one mans soul.
The story begins in 1971 with an inheritance coming to Paul, Will Castors great great grandson: an antique wooden box containing some old letters, a pocket watch, and a Civil War-era revolver. The watch, inscribed Love Always, Mollie, is a mystery as is Wills tombstone with the word Peep carved beneath the Civil War designation of Pvt Bat D 1st Mich Art (Private in Battery D, 1st Michigan Artillary).
With these two mysteries in place were sent back in time. Chickamauga, Georgia, September 20, 1863. Another sleepless night for Union private, Will Castor, and a day of relentless battle. The Union is losing ground. They are withdrawing. Since just before daylight the cold, heavy air had carried the deep rumble of artillery fire to them from somewhere over on the left, and it had steadily increased in volume and urgency as the morning wore on.
The battle continued: The guns of Battery D were taking a terrible toll on the Confederates as they crossed the old cornfield, but they could not fire fast enough to stem the tide, and all six guns were running out of ammunition.
Friends and comrades die terribly around this country boy from Michigan. The aftermath of that days war being that hes forced into horrible acts he would never have considered in his earlier, simpler life.
One of the strengths of the book is that the author doesnt intrude, never judges, simply lets Will go about staying alive, moving from crisis to crisis, until he is home, in Michigan, again. Unfortunately hes home with dreams that haunt him, and scenes in his head that fill him with guilt
In Michigan, Will tries to make a life for himself as a changed man but he travels through the rural world of northwest Michigan as if he deserves nothing, let alone to be left alive. The lumber camps draw Will into the rough life of men alone in the woods. As with the rest of the book, nothing is glossed over, only bare truths are given, which are sometimes funny. The lumberjacks, most of whom considered it unhealthy to bathe more than once a year, were beginning to give some thought to personal hygiene. The bane of all the men was the louse, body louse or crab louse; they all were hosts to both varieties. With this wealth of personal livestock, the lumbermen came up with a non-contact sport that involved pitting one louse against the other in fights to the death. It is here, in the lumber camp that Will faces another challenge, and himself, when he comes close to blindly killing a man simply because he can.
Will heads farther north again and straight into the path of a terrible forest fire burning the state from coast to coast: ...the next morning the smoke was even thicker and the wind had picked up and swung around to the southwest . . . Will weighed his options and quickly decided against trying to outrun the fire. He pulled his boots and socks off and stuffed them in one of G.D.s packs and then picked up the mules lead and waded out into the lake.
Will survives another trial by fire.
EVERY MANS TALE
Details of Michigan history, woven through the narrative, ground the story firmly in place and give a peek behind the curtain of time. These are events weve heard of. And now we have a winsome character taking us to places like the Michigan Battalion in the Civil War where we are a part of a devastating day and a cruel loss. And then the forest fires that leveled Chicago and much of Wisconsin and Michigan. Were taken to lumber camps and graphic stories of camp lifefunny and cruel, to the way men set up business at that time, found wives, made a life for themselves, and left secrets behind.
Eventually Will finds his way to Monroe Center, between Sherman and Traverse City, and a measure of peace. The frame for the story, through the use of the great great grandson and the mysteries surrounding Will work beautifully to highlight portions of his life. The author is very much in charge of his work, not bleeding dry the scenes of carnage but always keeping us in the head of this simple man who is probably Every Man: likeable in his plodding way; understandable in his quiet misery; victorious by his own measure of victory.
On many levels, Echoes of Distant Thunder is a very good book.
Elizabeth Kane Buzzellis fourth book in the Emily Kincaid mystery series is in stores now. The public is invited to the launch of Dead Dogs and Englishmen at Brilliant Books in Suttons Bay on Friday, July 22, 7 pm. Wine, cheese, and the music of Noel Coward will be featured.