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Shavetail: A Novel Hardcover – February 12, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (February 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416561196
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416561194
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,438,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Set in 1871 Arizona, the second novel from Cobb (Crazy Heart) is a thoughtful western that is more character-driven adventure tale than plot-driven novel. Connecticut runaway Ned Thorne, 17, joins the cavalry and lands at Camp Grant, a nascent outpost along the edge of Arizona's Chiricahua mountains. Capt. Robert Franklin thinks his command of Camp Grant punitive duty for an earlier disastrous campaign; the discovery of a pillaged farmhouse and the kidnapping of a woman by renegade Apaches provide an opportunity for Franklin to redeem his honor. Using the actual Camp Grant massacre as a frame for the story, Cobb produces some marvelous, richly described scenes, and he does a fair job with period detail (though punctilious western fans will find some anachronisms). Setting and plot, however, are of secondary importance to the deeper developing revelations of the three main characters—the third being Lt. Anthony Austin, who leads a harrowing chase through the mountains. Their introspective analyses go a long way, but there's a disjointed sense to the whole, which teeters between straight realism and Cormac McCarthy-style flights of mysticism. The real eventually wins, and the results are less than satisfying. (Feb.)
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Review

"The education to which Thomas Cobb's eager young soldier is forced to submit combines such wisdom, pain, suspense, and nasty good humor that I simply couldn't read this book fast enough. Of course I didn't know what a 'shavetail' was when I began, but learning that was only part of the education I was treated to. Guilt and innocence, blood and tenderness -- I can't imagine any reader who could resist."

-- Rosellen Brown, author of Civil Wars

"Shavetail is the story of the futility of war and is as immediate and brutal as daily news from Iraq or Afghanistan, although the year is 1871 and the place is southern Arizona and northern Mexico. Cobb presents the landscape, the characters, and the conflict with absolute authority, producing a magnificent story in the tradition of Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage and Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian."

-- Richard Shelton, author of Going Back to Bisbee

More About the Author

Thomas Cobb was born in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in Tucson, Arizona. He is also the author of Acts of Contrition, a collection of short stories that won the 2002 George Garrett Fiction Prize and Crazy Heart, his debut novel. He lives in Rhode Island with his wife.

Customer Reviews

Reading it, you feel like anything might happen.
Richard L. Pangburn
It is interesting and teaches the reader but it has excellent and well-drawn characters who tell you the tale through different eyes.
Maurice P. Shea III
He is a new writer to me but I look forward to future books.
Mary Nita Wing

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By exscribe on June 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
OK, first things first. Ignore the review that claims there is something mystical/Cormac McCarthy about this book. Admit it, McCarthy can be daunting and hard work to read. Think Lonesome Dove, not Blood Meridian. Cobb's characters come to life immediately. He tells their stories in alternating chapters. He also inserts the diary of another central character, a kidnapped settler, that I feared would grow cloying, but didn't. How he resolves her situation initially seemed abrupt, but the more I thought about it, I realized it was the correct resolution. Cobb obviously has done his research. The book reeks of authenticity (and reeks is the right word when you consider his descriptions of life in an Arizona Army outpost in 1871). Oh yeah, did I forget to mention, Shavetail is a lot of fun to read. This is the best Western I've read since Lonesome Dove and up there with my all-time favorite, Welcome to Hard Times. Buy it. Read it. Enjoy.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Richard L. Pangburn VINE VOICE on February 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was last year's Spur Award Winner for best western novel, and indeed, it is a deserving winner. It is also a very fine literary novel and, as the dustjacket burbs and notes indicate, this will appeal to mainstream readers as well as to fans of Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry.

A naturalistic novel, the plot builds around the possible abduction of a woman by Apaches. Like Helen of Troy, she becomes a mythic symbol, a cause for war, a McGuffin which may be real or may be wrongly imagined. Although quite a few westerns were built on similar premises, Thomas Cobb's fine novel is not predictable. Reading it, you feel like anything might happen. Try to guess and be surprised. There is no good-guy/bad-guy dualism; instead there are human universals and a sense of naturalism.

The snake in the opening paragraph, "suspended in a state neither asleep nor awake," seems to be a literary metaphor for death-in-life, as later their are suggestions of an awakening of mindfulness. Different readers will see different levels of meaning, but it is still fine if you see nothing beyond the surface story in here.

It is no spoiler here to say the book has an ending that all should enjoy, conventional western readers as well as mainstream readers of literary novels. The author did his historical research and he names his sources in an afterword to the novel. The story is well paced and although there are many nuances, they are not Cormac McCarthy difficult-to-discern. The hardcover edition is handsome and easy to read.

Given the success of Thomas Cobb's CRAZY HEART, of the movie made from the book, it will not be long until Hollywood powers see the potentially great movie in SHAVETAIL. I look forward to that day.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Maurice P. Shea III on March 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Shavetail is different. It is interesting and teaches the reader but it has excellent and well-drawn characters who tell you the tale through different eyes. Having been in the Army fifty years ago as an enlisted man I recognize the characters although from a different time period.
This is not candy for the eyes but is a great and serious story. Buy it and enjoy it. Tell your friends about it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dave Schwinghammer VINE VOICE on June 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
SHAVETAIL is more of a psychological western than an adventure novel. The three main characters are tortured in different respects. Ned Thorne, the shavetail, is a seventeen-year-old boy who has run away from home to join the army. He has a secret in his past that the author keeps alluding to. The letters he keeps writing to his brother Thad aren't what we think they are.

The two officers in the story, Captain Robert Franklin and Lieutenant Anthony Austin, have know each other all of their lives. Both were shamed when Franklin led his troupe into an Apache ambush due to Austin's suggestions. Bobby Franklin is more of a Colonel Custer kind of army officer, charging into battle without regard for his own safety. Austin doesn't really belong in the army. He is more interested in observing new species he finds in the Arizona territory outback. He also may be a manic-depressive. At first he's a sympathetic character, but his indecisiveness is a real detriment to the other soldiers. I was reminded of Merriweather Lewis every time Austin was on stage.

The villain of the story is the mule driver, Obediah Brickner, who steals Ned Thorne's weather instruments at the beginning of the novel. He has been busted to corporal because of the Apache ambush and is nursing a festering hatred for the two officers. Perhaps the most interesting character in the novel, is "Mary" a woman who reluctantly traveled west with her parents and fiancée from New England. One of the soldiers finds her journal after Apaches kill her husband and hired hand and kidnap her. The reader is led to believe that this will an adventure novel where the two officers and young Ned redeem themselves, but author Thomas Cobb emulates Cormac McCarthy in respects to killing off major characters and leading the reader off in unsuspected directions.

There is a scene with Anthony Austin negotiating with the leader of a troupe of Mexican irregulars that's as good as anything in Cormac McCarthy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Chad M. Supp on October 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read Thomas Cobb's "Shavetail" immediately on the heels of completing Bruce Machart's "The Wake of Forgiveness". Reading them back-to-back presented a unique contrast of styles in the genre, and an interesting perspective on how casually Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry are tossed around when reviewing westerns. I wouldn't compare either author to Cormac McCarthy, but if I had a center-fire Colt .45 placed to my head, I would say Machart fairly draws comparisons on the basis of the density of his prose. But that is where I think it ends. Cobb's prose doesn't share that kind of density, and it's somewhat of a relief. Not to say Cobb's work is any less literary. His prose is lean, but rich and descriptive. And where others in the genre shy away from dialogue in favor of long, scenic narrative tapestries, Cobb's characters come to life in their speech. Dialogue can be underrated, and frankly some writers are just flat-out bad at it (anyone who has read anything by Stephen Hunter knows what I'm talking about), but Cobb has proven in just two novels (this and "Crazy Heart") that his true strength may be letting his characters speak. In that, he shares something with McMurtry, but I don't see any McMurty in "Shavetail". If comparisons must be made, I would say the one name that kept popping into my head as I read this novel was Peckinpah. While I didn't sense any "Border Trilogy" or "Lonesome Dove" in "Shavetail", what I did sense was some "Ballad of Cable Hogue", a little "Ride the High Country", and a whole helluva lot of "Major Dundee". Cobb may not give you the prose to chew on like some other noted authors, but he definitely gives you the characters. If it's the prose you prefer, I recommend you search for Bruce Machart's "The Wake of Forgiveness". You won't be disappointed in that either.
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