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Shavetail : a novel

by Thomas Cobb.

Publishers Weekly Set in 1871 Arizona, the second novel from Cobb (Crazy Heart) is a thoughtful western that is more character-driven adventure tale than plot-driven novel. Connecticut runaway Ned Thorne, 17, joins the cavalry and lands at Camp Grant, a nascent outpost along the edge of Arizona's Chiricahua mountains. Capt. Robert Franklin thinks his command of Camp Grant punitive duty for an earlier disastrous campaign; the discovery of a pillaged farmhouse and the kidnapping of a woman by renegade Apaches provide an opportunity for Franklin to redeem his honor. Using the actual Camp Grant massacre as a frame for the story, Cobb produces some marvelous, richly described scenes, and he does a fair job with period detail (though punctilious western fans will find some anachronisms). Setting and plot, however, are of secondary importance to the deeper developing revelations of the three main characters-the third being Lt. Anthony Austin, who leads a harrowing chase through the mountains. Their introspective analyses go a long way, but there's a disjointed sense to the whole, which teeters between straight realism and Cormac McCarthy-style flights of mysticism. The real eventually wins, and the results are less than satisfying. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Book list Cobb's darkly symbolic coming-of-age tale follows Ned Thorne, a young soldier who is assigned to a remote outpost in Arizona, 1871, pursued by his own personal demons straight into a hell where the simple act of erecting a bakery to provide the soldiers with basic nourishment becomes a fatal undertaking. The boy endures his interior torments along with brutal encounters with fellow soldiers, while trying to maintain a sense of wonder with the natural world that seems just as likely to kill him as the renegade band of Apaches his patrol is assigned to track down. For all the desperation and doom, though, Cobb manages to inject a good deal of humor (in the form of a hapless simpleton wrangling such confounding complexities as the written word) and compassion (in the form of a sympathetic but ineffectual lieutenant) into the telling, in which seemingly abstract battles between right and wrong explode into life-and-death decisions, with the hand heavily tipped toward the latter. Call this a Western, but only if you also call Cormac McCarthy a cowpoke.--Chipman, Ian Copyright 2008 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Library Journal A shavetail is a young mule paired with an older mule to learn its work. Brickner, who is as wise and as contrary as any old mule, dubs 17-year-old Ned Thorne a shavetail and does his best to educate him on how to survive in the U.S. Army in 1871 Arizona. Ned's brutal training includes fighting, drinking, rustling cattle, and mule driving, before concluding when his cavalry chases a band of renegade Apaches into Mexico. When things go wrong, Ned must choose between the commonsense villainy of Brickner or his own conscience. Ostensibly about Ned, Shavetail is actually a thoughtful character study of four redemption-seeking men-Captain Franklin, Lieutenant Austin, Brickner, and Ned-not to mention a fine western. Readers will also find in Cobb's second novel (after Crazy Heart) nicely wrought coming-of-age elements. Highly recommended for all collections.-Ken St. Andre, Phoenix P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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