The Civil War marked many soldiers, but few as visibly as John Bell Hood (1831-79), the battle-scarred Confederate Army general on whom this historical novel is based. After the war, he moved to New Orleans minus one leg and with a useless left arm. (Poet Stephen Vincent Benét paid tribute to him in lines including "Yellow-haired Hood with his wounds and his empty sleeve." No one questioned the Kentuckian's bravery, but in hindsight critics accused him of being reckless and obstinate. In Robert Hick's novel A Separate Country, Hicks survives the war but succumbs to yellow fever and, for a time, to his own bitter hatred.
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Hicks follows his bestselling The Widow of the South with the grand, ripped-from-the-dusty-archives epic of Confederate general John Bell Hood. The story begins with Hood, on his deathbed with yellow fever, dispersing a stack of papers to former war nemesis Eli Griffin, urging him to publish the general's “secret memoir.” Hood's story picks up in 1878 as he, nearly broke, reflects on the past 10 years' dwindling fortunes. Now, with an artificial leg, a bum arm and nearly no money, he and his wife, Anna Marie, live in diminished circumstances in New Orleans. Over time, their once passionate relationship grows mundane as Hood “watched the years wrench devilry and lust and joy from her face.” Things are also complicated by the violent death of Anna Marie's best friend and the reappearance of former comrade Sebastien Lemerle, who holds a nasty secret he holds about Hood's past. Meanwhile, Hood's marriage and business failures pale in comparison to the yellow fever epidemic that decimates the area. Hicks's stunning narrative volleys between Hood, Anna Marie and Eli, each offering variety and texture to a story saturated in Southern gallantry and rich American history. (Sept.)
After the Civil War, Confederate general John Bell Hood retired to New Orleans, where he became a businessman, married Creole belle Anna Marie Hennen, and fathered 11 children. This second novel from Hicks (The Widow of the South) opens in 1879 as Hood lies dying of yellow fever. His deathbed wish is to see his "private" memoir published in lieu of his earlier detailed accounting of the war. Hood enlists the aid of Eli Griffin, a young Tennessean who had come to New Orleans in 1875 to kill the man who led the South's defeat at the Battle of Franklin and later became enmeshed in the lives of the Hoods and the tragic events surrounding longtime friends of Anna Marie's and a former subordinate of the general's. VERDICT Suffused with racial tension, brutality, sweltering heat, and sickness, this is the tale of a warrior knowing "nothing about death, only killing" who finally seeks love and a reconciliation with God. Readers must see past the bugs and the stench of New Orleans to unravel the puzzle of these picaresque characters. Recommended for Civil War buffs and those who appreciate precise, evocative writing. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/09.]—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal
A tale of mixed-up foolscap, dark secrets, a dwarf and a wharf. Tennessee-based Hicks, who debuted with a Civil War novel (The Widow of the South, 2005), ventures here into Reconstruction-era New Orleans. His hero is real-life Confederate warrior John Bell Hood (for whom the Texas fort is named), who settled after the Cause was Lost in New Orleans, where he had 11 children and otherwise kept busy. In Hicks' tense and tasty account, one of Bell's occupations is fending off the plague of unwanted characters who seek in one way or another to capitalize on his wartime renown. One is a mysterious chap named Sebastien Lemerle, a companion at arms from antebellum days. "In Texas I was young," Hood remembers. "I wanted to fight. I wanted to fight Comanche. Sebastien Lemerle and his squad came with me." For his sins, Hood gets his wish, and plenty more fights to boot. Somewhere along the way he also earns the continued attentions of Lemerle, who comes sniffing around Hood's door all these years after the Civil War has ended. Not far behind is a "little man" named Rintrah who has his fingers in many a pie, as well as a priest decidedly not on priestly business and a few assorted members of the proto-KKK, to say nothing of the foppish Beauregard, gone from Civil War hero to New Orleans wheeler-dealer and publisher, in whose hands is a manuscript of Hood's that Hood does not wish to be there. Thus the plot thickens, and Hicks spins a taut tale, told in many voices, of tangled webs, vengeance and other unfinished business. Expertly written, with plenty of unexpected twists-a pleasure for Civil War buffs, but also for fans of literary mysteries.