From Publishers Weekly
Murkoff's distinctive second novel (after the much acclaimed Waterborne
) spans five months in 1864 as Dr. William Harp returns to his Hudson Valley hometown after 10 years on a California expedition. With the nation at war and many locals in various states of decline, the doctor doesn't have much idle time. Among the lives that will intersect are mischievous, hard-drinking 13-year-old Coley Hinds, who is eternally torn between right and wrong; retired shipping captain Mickey Blessing; and Mickey's sister, Jane, who pines for her MIA soldier husband, Frank. A narrative lynchpin comes in the discovery of a mastodon skeleton, leading Will to purchase the land where it's found and to scavenge for other remains. Meanwhile, the hushed death of a local woman, violence involving Mickey and a local troublemaker, and jealousy of Will's notoriety for the skeleton he's begun reconstructing on his land all make for a heady denouement. The townsfolks' elaborately described machinations have a tendency to move the narrative in stops and starts, but that's about the only flaw in this dense, deliberate, and lush saga that will surely appeal to readers who appreciate brawny historicals. (July)
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Set in five months in 1864 in the Hudson River Valley, Murkoff's second novel (after Waterborne, 2004) vividly captures the life of the time, the damage done by war, and the ruthlessness of greed. After serving as a doctor in the army and surviving the Shoshone campaign in Utah, Will Harp returns to claim his family homestead in Rondout, guilt-ridden about his actions in the heat of battle and about lack of contact with his father before he died. Will finds an adversary in Mickey Blessing, the charmingly amoral hired muscle of a powerful businessman who needs Will's land to fulfill his dream. Their lives intersect with teenage orphan Coley Hind, who switches allegiance between the two men. This is less focused than Waterborne, which centered on the building of Boulder Dam; instead, it's a sprawling, meandering novel, chock-full of sensory detail that is sometimes painfully acute—as in portraying grief when a loved one is lost in war—and scattered with flashbacks to fill in backstories. Plot matters less here than evocation of time and place, and Murkoff is a master at that. --Michele Leber