Saturday, February 12, 2011

Review: Ghost Riders by Sharyn McCrumb

Recently Sharyn McCrumb posted on her Facebook page that her next novel will be out in August 2011, and suggested that we should read her earlier book Ghost Riders before then. The new book will be about Tom Dooley, of "Hang down your head, Tom Dooley" fame. His lawyer in the real story was Zebulon Vance, who is a major character in Ghost Riders. By the way, Tom's real name was Tom Dula but everyone mispronounced it.

I had a copy of Ghost Riders on my shelf so I have now read it. The characters in this book are some of McCrumb's best work. A few are real, others fictional, but all totally believable and fascinating. Everyone's favorite McCrumb character, Nora Bonesteel, makes a sort of cameo appearance in it, but another character with "the Sight" is one of the main characters. He is called "Rattler" and he is inseparable from the mountains he lives in, the Appalachians of western North Carolina. He's a loner but frequently reenactors of the Civil War camp in the mountains and if he wants some conversation he'll go visit them. Problem is, their uniforms and firing of period weapons seems to be bringing back ghosts of the real war.

In flashback we meet McKesson (Keith) and Malinda Blalock, union sympathizers in a "secesh" area. This is one of the toughest couples you'll ever meet. When he is forced to join the Confederate Army, Malinda dresses like a boy and joins up too as "Sam Blalock." Turns out she's a good soldier and they plan to cross over to the Union army as soon as they can. It's only when her husband is wounded and is to be sent home that she reveals her sex and goes home with him. That isn't the end of their wartime experiences though, far from it.

There are other superbly drawn characters to fill out the story of mountain people divided by a war they have little stock in, the cruelty shown toward the women, children, and old people trying to survive at home while the young men fight and die, and the lingering feuds that result, a la the Hatfields and the McCoys. This is the war I'm interested in rather than battles and generals and tactics so I greatly enjoyed this wonderful story. Above all, the people's sense of belonging to the Appalachians and their knowledge of the mountains prevails.

I highly recommend this book regardless of whether you are a Sharyn McCrumb fan or not. If you aren't, you will be after reading this book.

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