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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ten Of The Most Important Seconds In History!
"Stallion Gate" is a character novel, as opposed to the plot-driven suspense thrillers Martin Cruz Smith usually writes. It is also historical fiction, about one of the most extraordinary events precipitated by mankind, concluding with ten of the most important seconds in world history - the countdown for the test of the first nuclear weapon at Los Alamos, New...
Published on June 25, 2003 by Jana L. Perskie

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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Smith's Best
Many writers today find a successful formula and stick to it... over and over. The only thing the same from Martin Cruz Smith's works are their high level of excitement, interesting characters and plot development. Stallion Gate doesn't live up to Smith's past work. What he does best is gives the reader an insiders' view of a setting totally different than what the...
Published on July 24, 2003 by H. Row


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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ten Of The Most Important Seconds In History!, June 25, 2003
"Stallion Gate" is a character novel, as opposed to the plot-driven suspense thrillers Martin Cruz Smith usually writes. It is also historical fiction, about one of the most extraordinary events precipitated by mankind, concluding with ten of the most important seconds in world history - the countdown for the test of the first nuclear weapon at Los Alamos, New Mexico.
The story opens at Los Alamos in December, 1944. U.S. Army Sergeant Joe Pena, a Pueblo Indian who had seen action in the Pacific, was specifically requested by the Project's lead physicist, Robert "Oppy" Oppenheimer, to join the select and top secret group, in New Mexico, as his personal driver and body guard. Oppy had known Joe in his boyhood, when he left New York, for health reasons, to spend the summer in New Mexico. It was one of the happiest times of his life. Young Joe taught him to ride...and years later had still retained Oppy's trust.
All the important historical characters are present at Los Alamos. Oppenheimer, his wife Kitty, scientist Klaus Fuchs, the Army general in charge of the project, Fermi, etc., are here. Anna Weiss, a fictional German Jewish mathematician, who had fled the Nazis, and been recruited by Oppy, is present. So is Joe's superior officer, Captain Augustino, an insane and bigoted intelligence officer with his own agenda. He believes Fuchs, Weiss and Openheimer are Soviet spies and has blackmailed Joe into informing on them...although Joe resists mightily and successfully, most of the time.
There is little suspense in this novel. After all, we know that the atomic bomb test was successful, as well as we know of the other bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the Enola Gay. We know now who was a spy and who was unjustly accused. The storyline, is centered on Joe Pena, a complex, talented and very underestimated man. He disappointed his family, and had been disowned by his now deceased mother. Joe will never be a white man, nor a black man - although his ability to play jazz on the piano and understand the language of music like a native born to the country of chords and riffs, may have made his soul part Afro-American. He is really no longer a Native American either. He has seen and partaken of too much of the world to ever come home again. Pena fought like a hero on Baatan, and has fought heroically in the ring. Boxing was his sport and he was good. Throughout much of the book, he has no hopes for the future - no dreams. He observes everything and everyone, and comments occasionally with his sardonic humor. He thwarts Augustino's paranoid plots and assists a few renegade Indians, who try to work native magic to disrupt the explosion to come. He listens to Oppie who has lost weight and sleep with his anxiety over the Project. At one point Oppenheimer, while waiting for the rain to stop so he can meet the deadline for the test, says, "I am like the king of a rainy country, wealthy but helpless, young and ripe with death." Then, Joe, a lady's man - bedding officer's wives is forever getting him into trouble - falls in love with Anna Weiss. An opportunity to buy the Casa Manana, a nightclub in Santiago, NM, presents itself. Suddenly Pena dreams of owning the best jazz club outside of New York and Chicago...and the possibility of a future with Anna. The suspense does come Big Time, at the end of the novel, when all the forces at play, and the characters with their dillemas and choices, build toward their own personal climaxes - with an explosion that will impact the reader for some time to come.
If you are looking for an Arkady Renko thriller, this is probably not the book for you. There are pages, especially at the beginning, when the story plods along at an excruciating pace. I hung in there because I was caught up in the lyrical beauty of Cruz Smith's writing. His description of Joe on the piano, what and how he plays, is classic. "If blue skies were going to explode on them, they were ready, so he made the melody,'...bluebirds singin' a song' even as he brought the 'Moon' down a chromatic descent, a chord at a time. The tunes merged and split again, accelerating until keyboard and crowd swung between flight and plunge and he cued the horns, who stood and hit Charlie Parker riffs that settled the argument by demanding 'How High The Moon?' as if it were the sun." Can't help it. I'm a sucker for good prose. At one point Joe says, "Which is why I love music. You hit a C and it's a C and that's all it is. Like speaking clearly for the first time. Like being intelligent. A Mozart or an Art Tatum sits at the piano and picks out the undeniable truth."
Smith's descriptions of the desert's, (nature's), glory, is ironically juxtaposed with man's destruction and mutilation of the natural environment - so poignant and so gruesome. The radioactivity increasingly seeped into soil and water. Cows had to be checked with geiger counters before they could be slaughtered for consumption. At times, some of the animals' mutations were visible to the naked eye. Wild horses were machine-gunned from "B-29's." The author writes with a paintbrush. "The Hanging Garden got its name from the scarlet gillia, paintbrush and yarrow that had taken root and flourished in the turned soil of the hillside. The wildflowers were a brief, improbable splurge of colors - every shade of red, orange and madder - that turned and waved in any breeze crossing the dun drabness of the mesa."
Lastly, Joe Pena is as strong and developed a character as Arkady Renko. I enjoyed every minute I read about him, and he will stay in my mind as a wonderful anti-hero of his time. J. Kraus
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Star Crossed??, July 19, 2006
I went looking for this book for a friend. I had read it when it was published years ago and was more than impressed with the story. It was just a great read! I noticed all of these "1 Star" ratings and could not imagine who might give it that sort of evaluation. It just "ain't so." This is a terrific book and,although, Cruz may not hit four or five "Stars" everytime out, he did with "Stallion Gate!!" Try it, you'll like it!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do NOT miss this!, July 17, 2011
By 
Michael (Helena, MT, United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The 1 and 2 star reviews of this book are simply WRONG. If you believe them, you will miss out on a great book.

If you want to appreciate Stallion Gate, you only have to be able to do two things:
-enjoy beautiful writing
-understand that Stallion Gate is NOT an Arkady Renko Mystery - it is something different and, as much as I enjoy Renko's adventures, Stallion Gate is something better. It is probably Martin Cruz Smith's finest novel, which is saying a lot.

I have spent a lot of time in Alamogordo, and I know something about the a-bomb project (e.g. when Niels Bohr secretly visited the project his code name was 'Nicholas Baker') and this novel rings so true that it is scary. In spite of what some of the reviewers say, Sgt Pena is no less believable than Inspector Renko. (Or than Smith's gypsy detective, or N***** Blair in Rose.) Maybe he is more believable.

Trivia Question: What was the first country to be hit with a nuclear bomb?

The answer is, of course, the United States. In the enchanted wartime desert, which Martin Cruz Smith knows so well and brings back to life so beauifully and so truly.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprised, May 10, 2009
I am surprised to see this Cruz Smith book received a lower rating than his others. I've read them all, and this is my favorite IN SPITE of the truth of so many of the reviews: little action, foregone conclusion, and most missed the fact that it also depends on numerous prototypical characters that are barely convincing, including the hero Joe. BUT THE WRITING IS BEYOND anything, Cruz's best. There are set pieces here of perfect beauty, but they seem unrelated to anything until, much farther on, you suddenly see the light. Exciting writing rather than exciting story, although that part is not so bad at all.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Smith's Best, July 24, 2003
By 
H. Row "in1ear" (Arvada, CO United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Many writers today find a successful formula and stick to it... over and over. The only thing the same from Martin Cruz Smith's works are their high level of excitement, interesting characters and plot development. Stallion Gate doesn't live up to Smith's past work. What he does best is gives the reader an insiders' view of a setting totally different than what the audience is used to. Whether it be Los Alamos during the development of Man's deadliest weapon in this novel, Cuba in Havana Bay, Japan in December 4th: A Novel, or the Soviet Union in Gorky Park, with his characters on the verge of an exciting adventure for the reader to be a part of.
I enjoy Smith's books. Even Stallion Gate which isn't one of Smith's best efforts, still had more entertainment value than some other writers' best!
John Row
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cruz's best character, October 15, 1998
This review is from: Stallion Gate (Hardcover)
Martin Cruz Smith's best work. Although not as well known or recieved as the Gorky Park series I found this his most intresting stoy. I think Joe is his best anti-hero ever. More unique, with more depth than Arkady Renko or Roman Grey.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a book that you don't expect, March 19, 1997
By A Customer
Stallion Gate takes myriad elements- the Native American experience, be-bop jazz, boxing, the Manhattan Project and pottery- and melds them into a story that lives and breathes on its own. The characters are not only at odds with each other, but with themselves. While not Smith's best work, this is a clear example of why he is one of the finest and most versatile writers alive today
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New Mexico and the Atom Bomb in 1945, February 29, 2008
This is the first Martin Cruz Smith book that I have read, although I have seen the movie version of Gorky Park. This book is a different genre. It is an historical novel, not a suspense thriller.

The author has done his research well. He has gotten his facts right about the physics and engineering of the Manhattan project. Some of the New Mexico settings that he describes, for example La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, are ones that I have visited, but decades later than his 1945 time period. There may be some let down at the conclusion of the story because we know from history how the first atom bomb test worked. We also know the fate of the Titanic, but Hollywood keeps making movies about it. Historical films and novels share a similiar attribute. People will object if you change history too much.

To make you like this book, the author has to get you interested in the characters and the background setting for the novel. I think that he succeeds in both.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stallion Gate Keeps The Reader Reading, July 26, 2013
Like many others, I'm no stranger to Martin Cruz Smith's writings. I also know he is much better than some reviewers seem to believe. Stallion Gate is no exception.

I feel this was the opposite story of December 6. In this book the reader is in the US with eyes looking to Japan and an end to the war.

How often does a reader get the chance to join in making history in such a manner? How often does the reader already know the outcome of the main event but not how the event unfolded? Here's your chance to answer those questions.

As with all Smith books, a fine read... Where did the time go?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overly ambitious, January 18, 2011
Stallion Gate attempts to "document" the development of the plutionium bomb from the viewpoint of a Native American army sergeant, Joe Pena.

As well-written as Smith's Renko novels, Smith makes the error of trying to include too much in his character. Pena is considered by others -- but not himself -- as a war hero, a disaffected Native American, a security informer, a jazz pianist, and a boxer. He is involved in almost all major developments of the development of the atom bomb at Los Alamos.

I found myself taken out of the novel at times by how Pena could be involved with so many aspects of life around Los Alamos.

While well worth the read, Smith's ending moves from the realism of the majority of the novel to, what was for me, an unsatisfying metaphorical ending.
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Stallion Gate
Stallion Gate by Martin Cruz Smith (Hardcover - March 12, 1986)
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