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The Butcher's Cleaver: (A Tale of the Confederate Secret Services.) Hardcover – November 13, 2007
About the Author
W. Patrick Lang is a retired high level military intelligence officer, a life long student of the American Civil War and the Lincoln assassination. He is a widely published author and military consultant. His broad experience of combat and of the espionage world uniquely combine to give him special insight into the realities of such events across time. He lives with his wife in Alexandria, Virginia.
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This novel depicts how the idea of breaking the Union by assassinating its leader might have begun to take shape in the course of the tumultuous events which culminated in the failure of Lee's attempt to smash the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg. Its strong dramatic movement flows out of the situation depicted in the meeting of Lee, Benjamin, and Jefferson Davis at the start. Confronted by the prospect of the South's being overpowered in a war of attrition, Lee is looking for his Napoleonic victory -- Benjamin to exploit divisions within the Union side. It is the old Machiavellian contrast of the Lion and the Fox, and the novel's protagonist, Claude Devereux, is caught between the two worlds. Reluctantly abandoning the straightforward path of the soldier, he travels back, across enemy lines, to his native Alexandria to work in the shadows, playing to the Unionists the role of the Southerner who is on their side, and so can validate their notions of what the conflict is about. And he manages with great success to 'burrow and bore his way into their inner circles like a tree boring insect working its way into the sapwood.'
He does this despite the fact that Unionist counter-intelligence officers are onto him almost from the start. Much of the excitement of the story comes from the way in which the description of the machinations and counter-machinations of the various players -- sometimes as much or more concerned with outscoring rivals on their own side as with defeating the enemy -- is interwoven with the story of the campaign.
All this makes for a gripping adventure story. But the novel is more than that. Followers of Colonel Lang's blog, Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007, will know him as a particularly incisive commentator on military and foreign policy affairs. A central theme of his commentaries on current events -- the dangers of seeing what your ideological beliefs tell you should be there, rather than looking at what is actually there -- is at the heart of his novel. If Claude Devereux can both infiltrate the inner circles of the Unionists, and render ineffective the efforts of those who seek to expose him, this is largely because he exploits the need of the Unionist leaders to see the South in terms of ideological simplicities. They want to believe that their real enemy is the planter aristocracy, not that the white society of the South is united in seeing the North as attempting to impose an alien culture on them. And accordingly, they want to believe in Devereux.
At this point, the novel acquires decided contemporary resonance. It was precisely because so many wanted to believe in the vision of the oppressed Shia of Iraq waiting eagerly for deliverance from Saddam Hussein at the hands of the United States that Ahmad Chalabi was able to worm his way into the inner circles of the Bush Administration -- and use American power to further his own purposes, and those of the clerical regime in Tehran.
It is very evident Colonel Lang himself sees the Civil War as fundamentally a conflict of cultures, pitting a North Eastern culture, rooted in Puritanism, against the 'cavalier' culture of the South: so the American Civil War is in some sense a continuation of its English precursor. It is also very clear that his sympathies are with the Confederacy. For many Americans, obviously, the issues of the Civil War still carry an immense emotional charge -- in a way they do not for an Englishman like me. It is however not very sensible, in dealing with literature as in other matters, to forgo opportunities for enjoyment and instruction because one does not agree with the views of those providing them.
The Butcher's Cleaver is certainly not without blemishes -- it is the work of someone whose primary trade is war and intelligence, not novel writing, and sometimes lacks the fluency one would expect in a more practiced writer of fiction. It is however a work of very real imaginative power. It is the same gift of empathy which makes Claude Devereux so adept a practitioner of intrigue which enables his creator to draw on his own experience to create this memorable -- and ultimately rather terrifying -- character. Among a gallery of other striking characters, perhaps the most remarkable is Devereux's subordinate Isaac Smoot -- a professional soldier's portrait of a professional soldier.
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The following excerpt from DIAReview is an important and telling peer review of the unique qualities...Read more