Dense, compelling, original… A crime drama, a romance, and a poignant coming-of-age story.
Set against the Fenian invasion of Canada and the aftermath of American Civil War, Roy’s remarkable novel offers an extraordinary blend of historical drama, western fiction, and crime. It is 1866. The Break O’Day Johnnies,Two Cent Tommy Magill and Stonehouse Jack, are on a crime spree along with the young Sheldon Fairfield as the Fenian Brotherhood carries out raids in Canada. When an unexpected outcome throws the men at odd with each other, the street gang breaks apart. Struggling to come to terms with the demons of his troublesome past, Two Cent Tom Magill leaves Buffalo and sets out to search for truth and love with sporting house whore Angel Emmeline. The leisurely paced third-person omniscient narrative voice skillfully captures Two Cent Tom’s maturing perceptions as well the complex personalities of the secondary cast, including major and minor players. Roy shines at giving the era’s class, racial, and economic tensions a human face; be it the mean streets of Buffalo’s Infected District or the unruly towns of Pennsylvania’s turbulent oil fields, each place comes alive on the pages. There are tough outlaws, sad and angry Civil War soldiers, and cunning brothel owners. And there are desperate whores who are just as significant and just as involved in the story. Roy’s storytelling is earnest and heartfelt. Heartbreak and heartache are in plenty, there is a deft exploration of love and life, a brilliant evocation of a time and place along with the confusion that results when, for whatever intent, people start making a game of life. The novel is dense and quite lengthy, but Roy packs a terrific lot of action into his pages—there are gunfights, violent brawls, and extractions along with some interesting period lore. Though the many scenes of bloody brawls, rape, and violence might turn away some readers, Roy keeps up a steady supply of vivid descriptions of the setting: “Inky blackness descends over the pale dusk. Night falls as a smothering blanket settling the recalescent brightness of a long hot July day. Gas lamps are lit in feeble halfhearted protest. White noise meets gray mist meets empty dark intent.” The narrative gets a little middling at times, especially as Roy infuses it with lengthy political discussions. And a couple of set pieces seem disparate, making it hard for the reader to keep track of the story. However, the whole skein of loose ends ultimately gets tied up, and the book closes on a satisfying note. Fans of well-researched, atmospheric historical epics ought to check this out.
Price $15.00 (USD) Paperback, $2.94 Kindle edition