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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I am not much of a reader of novels, nor was I particularly familiar with Scott Phillips. I only picked this novel up because I am originally from Labette County and I was interested to see how he would incorporate the actual historical events of the region into his story.

Having finished a book that was very very hard to put down, I find myself anxiously awaiting Phillips' next effort while simultaneously seeking out his previous two novels, which as I understand were set in 20th-century Wichita.

Phillips has a gifted eye for the absurd (which occasionally veers into the realm of the obscene, so be warned) accompanied by a talent for good dialogue. There were several times where I literally had to struggle not laugh out loud (the baby had just fallen asleep, after all), and I often found myself repeatedly reading passages to my wife so that she too could appreciate one ludicrous scene after another. It was great fun.

The novel can get dark at times, and is often downright gruesome, but for the most part it is ribald Western satire featuring a very interesting protagonist & narrator, Bill Ogden, who is wonderfully amoral --- for the most part, until the chips are down --- and irreverent. Circumstances of his own doing (and some beyond his control) come to pass which force Ogden to flee Cottonwood for almost 20 years as a much-maligned individual, until other events come to pass that induce him to return to the scene of the crime (so to speak) and confront his past actions, as well as dispense justice.

Most of Phillips' strengths lay in his skill with dialogue & character development. He does not spend much time describing the countryside as other authors might do. Some readers may consider this a liability & others may see it as an asset --- all I can say is that I would not have recognized Labette County from any other region in Kansas based on Phillips' descriptive powers. However, his characters are so entertaining as to make you not care particularly. What matters is the story in any case, and this is a good one indeed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover
After hearing a reading by Scott Phillips at the Madisonville Community College in April, I immediately wanted more. Quite unfortunately for the reading public, I learned from Scott that the book from which his reading was originally drawn, _Cottonwood_, is currently out of print, but Scott was generous enough to hook me up with a copy. As excellent as the story from the reading was, it didn't even make the cut for inclusion in the final draft of that book. This speaks no discredit to the story, but instead suggests just how engaging and well-constructed the book itself is. There were plenty of other gems to go around, and thankfully that story Scott read is now part of _Hop Alley_, a novel that takes up the same characters and world of Cottonwood and expands on some missing years therein.
_Cottonwood_ follows the story of Bill Ogden, a local saloon owner and burgeoning photographer, as he makes his way in the developing frontier town of Cottonwood, Kansas. We follow Bill through a troubled marriage, a series of titillating romantic relations, business ventures, the discovery of a disturbing crime, each interwoven into a complex fabric of local life and each as carefully recounted and compelling to read as the other, whether it is the drama of murder or the composition of a photograph.
From there, the narrative jumps forward in time and space, following Bill to California and elsewhere, and it is not immediately apparent that both the love and the crime introduced in early years in Cottonwood will end up bringing Bill full circle, concluding his time back in Kansas in a most satisfactory manner.
The style and tone of the book reminded me both of _McCabe and Mrs. Miller_ and _Deadwood_, with a realism that is as gritty as it is well-researched, challenging simplistic representations of late nineteenth-century culture and morality without collapsing into an equally reductive caricature of the "wild west." As someone with an interest in the nineteenth century, I appreciated the subtle historical references and details that added richness to the narrative and demonstrated the careful research that must have been conducted to produce it. But the book would be equally appealing to those without any historical background or interest in historical fiction, the characters being so well-wrought and the narrative so engaging. I'm looking forward to reading _Hop Alley_ next!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon August 17, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Scott Phillips' first two novels -- quirky, darkly funny crime stories set roughly in the present -- proved that he can write. In Cottonwood, Phillips departed from the conventions of crime fiction to write a quirky, darkly funny western. Crime works its way into the story, but the crime plot is secondary to Phillips' strong characterization.

Cottonwood takes place between 1872 and 1890. Essentially a mixture of a western and a thriller/mystery, Cottonwood tells the story of Bill Ogden, a photographer who comes to the frontier town of Cottonwood, Kansas to homestead a farm with his new Dutch wife and their son. Ogden doesn't take to farming, so he hires a hand to do most of the work while he establishes a saloon and photography studio in the town. The handyman catches the attention of Ogden's wife, a circumstance that would probably be more upsetting to Ogden but for his uncontrolled gift for charming women, married and unmarried alike. Eventually he becomes entangled in a dangerous affair, starts wondering about the mysterious disappearance of visitors to Cottonwood, gets involved in an old-fashioned shootout, and begins a journey that years later brings him back to a very different Cottonwood.

The story works because Ogden is such a strong character. As he struggles to build a life, struggles with romance, struggles with family, and struggles with moral decisions, the novel's fascination comes from watching him confront (or dodge) those challenges. Phillips tells a lively, imaginative story that is enhanced by his incorporation of a family of Kansas killers into the plot that actually existed. As he did in his first two novels, Phillips proved that he can write. This fine effort deserves a wider audience. I would give it 4 1/2 stars if that option were available.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Just as Charles Willeford did before him, Scott Phillips writes darkly comedic novels punctuated with shocking acts of violence. In Cottonwood, Phillips continues this tradition but does so in the context of a well researched story that unfolds in a day and age well beyond the memory of anyone now alive.

Cottonwood, a small fictitious Kansas farming community, sees itself boom when the prospect of a future as an important hub in the cattle trade materializes a few years after the end of the Civil War. Narration is provided by the book's main character Bill Ogden.

Ogden is a man of many talents. A very incomplete list of his skills would include farming, saloonkeeping and photography. He also is quite adept when it comes to sexually pleasuring a diverse demographic of women, one which ironically does not include his own wife. Ogden is a bit of a paradox. Sometimes his actions seem heroic but more often than not the word scoundrel fits him better than anything else.

What is the book about? A number of things. Greed, jealousy, infidelity, lust, murder, the pioneer spirit, the human capacity to do whatever it takes to survive. Throw in a tornado and a German speaking family of serial killers and you have a novel guaranteed to entertain the most jaded among us.

As he did in his second novel, The Walkaway, Phillips shows an amazing ability to transcend time frames. The second half of the book takes place a full 17 years after the first and only a few details about what transpired in the interim are spelled out. Surprisingly, this unconventional structure does not detract from Cottonwood's appeal one bit.

This novel is written with a healthy dose of dark humor and it unfolds in a way that gives the reader credit for having a modicum of intelligence. An enthusiastic 5 stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Scott Phillips is an author in total command of his craft.
Having read and loved The Ice Harvest I was looking forward to Cottonwood.
I am not going to compare the two novels, they are both first rate but different.
Cottonwood is told in the first person, which lends an intimacy to the events that unfold.
The novel is about a one-horse town set in Kansas and events that took place in 1872. Bill Ogden owns a saloon and needs money. He gets involved with Marc Leval, a rich Chicago developer who becomes obsessed with Leval's widow. Meanwhile a local family is butchering travelling salesmen. The novel dramatises real crimes that were committed by a clan called The Bloody Benders in the late 1800s.
It is wry, tightly structured, well researched and full of surprises. It is never laboured, which is a tribute to Scott Phillips's ability to make his research come alive.
There is much of the frontier here, and I was reminded of Zane Grey at times but without his idealism. It reads like a Western crossed with Noir
Cottonwood is a tense story that draws you into a seedy world, one which Scott Phillips draws with unerring realism. I look forward to his next one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I'd just shotgunned the Deadwood TV series when I plucked Cottonwood from my shelf, hoping to keep that buzz going with its namesake outlaw frontier town. As with the aforementioned show, the most surprising element of Phillips's book is its persistent humor, which often derives less from situations as it does from the language that describes them, coming from the literate tongue of our … well, let's not say "hero" … Bill Ogden. The prose is eloquent filth, certainly of its time and well-researched. Though its second half is less plotty, I enjoyed that more, watching Ogden return to the town he once fled after having built it, marveling at its progress yet still mired in some of the same muck he thought he'd left in his wake. Frame the story with a historical fiction element in the murderous Bender clan of Kansas, and you've got a compelling read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This novel was very enjoyable. It reminded me of two television programs.---Deadwood and Hell On Wheels. Both programs are about new towns that are starting up in the "Old West." The story is believable and the characters are interesting. The main character is a photographer that is there from the birth of Cottonwood. He tells the story from his point of view. Other interesting characters include the
Benders, a mother and daughter team of mass murderers. While this story is fictional, the Benders were real mass murderers and the author took the time to research them. In conclusion, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the old west and also to those who have enjoyed both television programs.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I first read Ice Harvest, although not a fan of noir fiction, it looked like a quick read. And it was. Not particularly enjoyable, but not bad either. As I said, I'm not a fan of the noir or "detective/private eye" type literature.
So I decided to give Cottonwood a try, being more up my alley. I never would have guessed this was written by the same author. Much more thoughtful, less simply written, and seemed to me to be a more mature writing style. I've really enjoyed reading this novel. Great attention to detail where needed, and to the point when not. Not sparse, but very clean.
If you've read his other works and weren't a fan, give him another chance. You won't be disappointed in this read!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
"The Ice Harvest" is that brilliantly quirky book you wish you could write. "The Walkaway" was a bit of a drop off as far as pacing and interesting characters go, though still compelling. But "Cottonwood" is Phillips' masterpiece, at least to date. An utterly absorbing tale of the new frontier, the personal tragedies overlaid with the dreams and hopes of an expanding town, run through Phillips' own take on human foibles and one of the grisliest set of true crimes of the era--this is a can't put down book that I at least will read and recommend many times over. One of the finest novels I've ever read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I continue to be impressed by Scott Phillps' versatility. This western/horror/crime novel is simply fantastic. The "vibe" stayed with me a long time after I finished reading it. I really like the characters, setting, everything. The author does not pander by using "best-seller" techniques. He remains true to his vision. I've been a fan since ICE HARVEST and I plan to buy every single thing this guy ever writes.
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