Synopses & Reviews
The year is 1916. The enemy Pancho Villa, is elusive. The terrain is unforgiving, the intense heat and dust both relentless and overpowering. Through the mountains and across the long dry stretches of Mexico, Napoleon Childs, an aging cavalryman, leads an expedition of inexperienced horse soldiers on seemingly fruitless searches.
Napoleon has weathered the storms of battle with a toughness that has become like a second skin, with the Rattler, a horse who's as flinty and seasoned as he. But this time, Napoleon can't control one of his young soldiers who has a penchant for reckless, dramatic actions--and who singlehandedly, in his desire to prove himself, makes a move that is the beginning of the end. Before long, Napoleon's patrol is at the mercy of an enemy who is intent not only on killing Napoleon's men but on something much bigger: avenging a brutal act.
Robert Olmstead describes the experience of battle so viscerally that the reader feels the fear, the danger, and the dread. With the precision of a master, he tells the harrowing and transfixing story of the last of these intrepid warriors.
"In his seventh novel, Olmstead (Coal Black Horse) delivers another richly characterized, tightly woven story of nature, inevitability and the human condition. In 1916, the aging Napoleon Childs assembles a cavalry to search for the elusive bandit Pancho Villa in Mexico. The ragtag group includes Napoleon's brother, Xenophon, and 'America's eager export of losers, deadbeats, cutthroats, dilettantes, and murderers.' Riding on horseback for months at a time, Napoleon finds himself and his men always just a few hours behind Villa, whose posse navigates the unforgiving terrain with ease. When a band of marauders descend upon the group, many of Napoleon's men are brutally slaughtered and Napoleon himself is left beaten and emotionally broken. After the attack, Napoleon proclaims to his brother that the person he was died out there. But this revelation doesn't last long, and soon Napoleon sets out on yet another date with destiny on the open plains with his followers. Reminiscent of Kent Haruf, Olmstead's brilliantly expressive, condensed tale of resilience and dusty determination flows with the kind of literary cadence few writers have mastered." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Brutal, tender and magnificent." Kirkus Reviews
"The spare, often poetic prose conveys the raw violence, brutality, and quixotic actions of people at war." Booklist
"Verbal precision and historical accuracy combine with a poetic distillation of a tragic event presented in solidly captivating reading experience that haunts the mind long after the final page is turned. Dallas Morning News
"In this, his seventh book, Olmstead writes with a gritty style as sparse as the landscape itself....And Olmstead's humor is as dry as the sunbaked land, too. Washington Post
The year is 1916. The enemy, Pancho Villa, is elusive. Terrain is unforgiving. Through the mountains and across the long dry stretches of Mexico, Napoleon Childs, an aging cavalryman, leads an expedition of inexperienced horse soldiers on seemingly fruitless searches. Though he is seasoned at such missions, things go terribly wrong, and his patrol is suddenly at the mercy of an enemy intent on their destruction. After witnessing the demise of his troops, Napoleon is left by his captors to die in the desert.
Through him we enter the conflicted mind of a warrior as he tries to survive against all odds, as he seeks to make sense of a lifetime of senseless wars and to reckon with the reasons a man would choose a life on the battlefield. Olmstead, an award-winning writer, has created a tightly wound novel that is as moving as it is terrifying.
About the Author
Robert Olmstead is the author of six previous books. Coal Black Horse
was the winner of the Heartland Prize for Fiction and the Ohioana Award, was a #1 Book Sense Pick, and was a Borders Original Voices pick. Olmstead is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and an NEA grant, and he is a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University.