Soul Catcher: A Novel
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Soul Catcher: A Novel

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by Michael C. White

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Augustus Cain is a damaged man haunted by a terrible skill: the ability to track people who don't want to be found. Rosetta is a runaway slave who bears the scars, inside and out, of a life of servitude to a cruel and unforgiving master. Her flight is fueled by a passion and determination only a mother could feel, and she would rather die than let anyone drag


Augustus Cain is a damaged man haunted by a terrible skill: the ability to track people who don't want to be found. Rosetta is a runaway slave who bears the scars, inside and out, of a life of servitude to a cruel and unforgiving master. Her flight is fueled by a passion and determination only a mother could feel, and she would rather die than let anyone drag her back to hell. In a dark, volatile time prior to the Civil War, fate has bound the hunted and hunter on a remarkable odyssey from Virginia to Boston and back again—an extraordinary test of character and will, mercy and compassion, that will change them both forever.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

White's latest novel (after 2004's The Garden of Martyrs), a sweeping if often predictable saga of Antebellum societal and political tensions, follows Augustus Cain, a down on his luck gambler, wounded Mexican-American War veteran and notorious fugitive slave catcher. After a run of bad luck, Cain accepts an assignment from Mr. Eberly, a wealthy Virginia landowner that Cain's in debt to, to track down two runaway slaves, Henry and Rosetta. Along with three of Eberly's men, Cain sets out on a dangerous journey that takes him from Richmond to New York and Boston. After Cain captures the runaways and turns homeward, the trek becomes a means of redemption for both the "soul catcher" and his captives, and paints an unsettling portrait of a nation on the brink of civil war. Intercut with the journey are vivid flashbacks of the battle that left Cain crippled. Despite an abundance of stock cameos (a traveling salesman/con artist, wise elderly people who dispense easy advice) and a predictable conclusion, the book succeeds in presenting a fractious era and a host of moral quagmires. Cain-a flawed and coarse antihero-becomes emblematic of a historical moment under White's sure hand. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)

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Soul Catcher
A Novel

Chapter One

Cain had been awakened by the frenzied whinnying of a horse below his window in the street. Still half asleep, his head throbbing and barley soaked, he recalled the dream he'd had of the place called Buena Vista. The brave, foolish Mexicans throwing wave upon wave against the left flank of the American line, the slaughter coming so easily it made him sick at heart. Later, when the sheer size of Santa Anna's charge had overrun the American position and captured the wounded left behind, Cain, his leg shattered, lay helplessly among them. He remembered the cries of his comrades as the enemy had gone from soldier to soldier with a bayonet, silencing them with "Recuerde Agua Nueva." After that, as night crept in over the high desert and the stars flashed like sparks from a grindstone, there was the stillness of what he felt had to be the approach of death. And finally, opening his eyes upon the mestiza girl hovering over him, her dark head aglow in morning sunlight, his first thought was that she was some otherworldly creature come to usher him to Hades. Now in bed, staring up at the stained ceiling of his room, the thought of that girl, the silken feel of her skin, the playful glint of her black eyes, caused an ache such as he had not felt for years to rise up in his chest like a wave of seawater slamming into him. He sat up, barely able to catch his breath. Cain, he heard her whisper to him. Cain.

It was then that a loud knock erupted against his door.

"Go away," he called. He figured it was Antoinette, the elderly madam of the house, coming to inform him he'd have to vacate the roomfor paying customers.

The knock came again, more insistent this time, the side of a large fist hammering the wood in anger.

"The devil take you," Cain called out, looking for something to heave at the noise. "If you don't—"

But suddenly the door flew open and two men burst in. They were both armed, and Cain's thoughts ran immediately to the possibility that he was about to be robbed. One of the two intruders was of considerable size, tall and heavy limbed, thick through the belly, with a bushy beard and small iron-colored eyes like a pig's. He wore farmer's clothing, a floppy brimmed hat and muddied boots, and he brought with him into the room the acrid smell of the barnyard. He carried a Shaffer single-barrel shotgun in one big paw, and while he didn't actually aim the thing at Cain, he kept it at the ready. The other intruder was older and slight of build, a dignified-looking man of the southern planter class, not tall so much as a man whose erect bearing and good breeding gave the impression of size. He was well dressed in a brown riding coat, knee-length boots burnished to a high shine, and black leather gloves. He had the sharp features of a red-tailed hawk and cold, blue-gray eyes that fixed Cain where he lay with an imperious gaze. On his hip, he carried a sidearm, a pearl-handled, small-caliber pocket revolver, a pretty weapon of the sort that riverboat gamblers kept in their coat pockets and women carried in their purses. The two made an unlikely pair of robbers, but you could never tell in this part of the city. Cain glanced around, searching for his own weapon. It lay across the room on the bureau, above which hung a cracked mirror. Damn, he thought.

"What in the hell you think you're doing?" Cain cried.

It was the old man who spoke up. "I've come for money," he said.

Cain laughed at that. "If you've a notion to rob me, mister, you're up a creek without a paddle."

The well-dressed man offered a patronizing smile to this comment. There was, Cain felt, something familiar about that gesture, about his mouth and the haughty way he looked at Cain, though he couldn't place him. Certainly, he'd seen his ilk before.

"I've come only for what you owe me." When Cain furrowed his brow in bewilderment, the man added, "You don't remember me, do you?"

"Should I?"

"Last Saturday night," the man explained, removing his gloves one finger at a time. When his gloves were off, he unconsciously rubbed the palm of his left hand, where a knotted scar snaked across it from little finger to thumb. It was the sort of wound that would have been made had he grabbed hold of a knife blade in self-defense. "At the Morgan Brothers."

Cain still drew a blank. There had been so many such evenings of gambling and drinking of late, that like the others, this one formed a grayish blank in his mind, as if burned away with a branding iron.

"My aces beat your queens," the man offered.

Only then did it come back to Cain how he knew the man. He never forgot a hand, especially a losing one. It had been in one of the back rooms of the Morgan Brothers, a well-known gambling establishment in Richmond. He fumbled around in his thoughts and then the name appeared with the aces: Eberly. A wealthy tobacco planter with a reputation for losing a thousand dollars on a single hand, as if it were so much paper. The card game, attended by mostly wealthy merchants and plantation owners, should have been much too rich for Cain's blood. But he'd been drinking heavily and he felt he could part them from some of their money, and when he'd seen the three ladies turn up in his hand like a rainbow after a string of bad weather, he'd felt lucky, and he wasn't going to let such an opportunity slip through his fingers. So he'd cast reason to the wind and stayed in the hand much longer than sense should have allowed or means . . .

Soul Catcher
A Novel
. Copyright © by Michael White. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Michael White's previous novels include the New York Times Notable Book A Brother's Blood as well as The Garden of Martyrs and Soul Catcher, both Connecticut Book of the Year finalists. He is the director of Fairfield University's MFA program in creative writing, and lives in Connecticut.

Brief Biography

Guilford, CT, USA
Date of Birth:
Place of Birth:
Hartford, CT, USA
University of Connecticut - B.A., English; M.A., English, 1975, 1977; University of Denver - Ph.D., English

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3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a bit slow in the beginning, but once it picked up, it pulled you into it. The ended haunted me. Did not end the way I expected it to end and it stayed with me for days. Some books don't always work out perfect and there aren't always happy endings in books as in life.
vivico1 More than 1 year ago
I am usually not into westerns or civil war stories, but this was a really good book! What happens when the thing you do best becomes the thing you hate most, being a slave catcher? And what happens, when you start to care? Great story and yet realistic ending too. It was a very engaging story that you can see play out in your movie mind.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very intriguing book that kept me in suspense as to what would happen with the two main characters. I was surprised and disappointed at the same time, but happy with the ending.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Soul Catcher by Michael White Reviewed by GW It is truly a joy when a book comes along like Soul Catcher. From the opening chapter until the final sentence, I was mesmerized by this very important piece of work. I could not wait to get home from work and begin reading about this journey of adventure, romance, poker, gunfights, horses, moral conflict, and an absolutely original and terrific plot. Augustus Cain is a character that will live in the minds of the reader for years to come. All of the characters are memorable. Some of them are down right mean and vicious while others are just trying to adjust to a way of life forced upon them. When Rosetta a slave escapes from her owner, Eberly, a wealthy tobacco plantation owner, Cain¿s services are needed. Cain tracks and returns runaway slaves to their owners for money, and he is very good at his trade. Unfortunately, Cain is forced into this job. Having lost money and the bill of sale for his horse in a poker game, Cain must take the job. Augustus Cain is very dependent upon his horse, and he will do anything to keep him. Augustus Cain has an adventurous background, and it is revealed throughout the book. The reader will hang onto every phrase in this exciting story as Augustus deals with his past, present, and future. The two slaves in question by Eberly are Henry and Rosetta. They escaped at the same time, but Rosetta is the main reason Eberly wants the services of Cain. Rosetta will touch the heart of everyone reading the book. Cain must take the Strofe brothers and a man called Preacher with him to retrieve the slaves. As the journey starts, it is apparent that trouble is brewing down the road. Cain is an intelligent man who reads Milton¿s Paradise Lost. Cain¿s comrades lack sophistication and intelligence. This story is set in Pre Civil War leading up to the beginning of the conflict. Michael White¿s prose moves like a shark in the water ¿ smooth, engaging, easy to follow and smart. To give away any more of the plot would be a travesty to avid readers. Rush to the nearest book and track down Soul Catcher by Michael White. Real events are dispersed throughout the book that gives it realism and depth. It is a reading experience that delivers thought provoking dialogue and issues for anyone interested in the human race and life. Finding the right thing to do with one¿s life and the journey arriving there is sometimes difficult and filled with moral consciousness and mind challenging events. I wish someone else in my community would read the book. I want to discuss every aspect and motive within this classic piece of work. It was relevant before the Civil War, and many themes are relevant today. I have not read a book in a long time that has affected me like this. I think about the characters and the story throughout the day as I go about my job. The relevance and emotional depth that the book leaves with the reader is exactly what books should do. Whether fiction or non fiction, the reader should be left with food for thought and knowledge for conversation. I highly recommend Soul Catcher by Michael White to anyone looking for substance, significance, and accomplishment. I commend Michael White for creating a story with wonderful characters, just the right amount of action, and a knock out plot for everyone to enjoy. Augustus Cain has become one of my favorite fictional characters. He has an adventurous soul that lurks inside all of us. However, like Cain, we must strive to find the right path.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Somewhat crippled Mexican War veteran Cain owes a large debt to vicious Virginia plantation owner Mr. Eberly so he accepts the assignment to find and return runaway slaves Rosetta and Henry. As much as insuring the fugitive slave-catcher performs his task as assisting him, Eberly assigns three of his employees to accompany Cain.----------------- Cain follows the trail through New York to Boston where he finally captures the two runaways. However, Rosetta remains uncooperatively defiant as she has decided death is better than returning to the abusive Eberly. Henry is a bit more compliant, but looks for a chance to escape on the trek back to Virginia and hell. As they journey together, Cain begins to see his prisoners as people not beasts of burden, but to liberate the pair means death for him and probably them.---------------- This pre-Civil War historical thriller provides a fabulous account of a nation struggling for its soul. Cain in many ways is symbolic of the non-slave states of the United States in the 1850s as he does not care one way or the other about slavery except how it affects him by allowing him to earn a living until he escorts his latest runaways back to their owner. As he gets to know the pair, he begins to wonder what he is doing to real people. A chance for redemption is his, but the price might prove high. Although much of the support cast seems overly stereotypical, Cain makes for a strong morality tale.-------------------- Harriet Klausner
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Written well with white knuckled worry.
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Opinion8ted More than 1 year ago
Absolutely nothing original in this novel. The characters are either mysterious and good, or incredibly evil. Unless they stutter - then they're just "stupid", apparently. If you're into stereo-typical white male fantasies about women of color,this book is for you. All that's missing is an Asian girl. Men of color are portrayed as weak and incidental. And of course, the main character loves his amazing horse.
bobmc7 More than 1 year ago
Almost every character in the book is introduced to the reader with a sledgehammer to the head approach as to their status in the story - good guy or bad guy. Every subsequent encounter with the character piles added evidence to support the initial presentation. You would think that Cain, the "soul catcher" would be the one to be introduced as a "bad guy" and through events in his life we would watch him be redeemed and finish the book as the hero. No suprise to the reader that this is exactly what the author intended as evidenced through Cain's actions, but Cain seems to be neither bad nor good. If this were attributed to complexity in the character it could make for a much more interesting book. In fact Cain doesn't come across as complex, just indecisive. The one character that doesn't remain just as we first meet her, is the female slave that Cain is dispatched to catch. She is presented as a woman of mystery, who for unknown reasons is "special" and stands apart from the other slaves. Later we find that this character is just as bland and one dimensional as all the others, except for her beauty which has created all the troubles of her life. The book does have some thrills, with new challenges and unexpected dangers around every corner. The turns of events kept me reading, hoping that a better book was just around the corner, however the quality of writing remained the same, only the circumstances were different. Save you time.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I was long overdue for a really good book that was so good I couldn't put it down and this one did that for me. I was so taken with all the characters and couldn't wait to see what would happen in the next chapter. I usually prefer female writers, but this book is just really good. I'm ready for some more from this writer. I loved the characters and the history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Augustus Cain is a drunk, a gambler, and a laudanum addict. Most people would think the sum of all these vices would be bad enough however, Cain has one more sin to bestow upon this world. Cain¿s peacetime profession is a ¿Slave Catcher,¿ aka, a Soul Catcher. This information forms a very bleak picture of Cain, but it is not the whole story, for Cain is a man struggling with his own ideology. He has been brought up to believe that human beings of a particular race are property. He also believes that men and women who run away from their owners are criminals. And, who is there to oppose this view, for his family, neighbours, even the law, support this very attitude. Nevertheless, Cain has had enough of fetching slaves for wealthy landowners. This is not because of any moral reason, but, rather, because he is hurtling toward middle age, and an old war wound causes him pain when he sleeps outside. In addition, abolitionists like John Brown are just waiting to make examples of southern slave catchers so retrieving slaves is getting to be dangerous business. Reluctantly, Cain agrees to perform one last job, as gambling has robbed him of everything he owns. Enter Rosetta, a feisty, defiant, and beautiful young woman, who will take any risk to achieve her freedom. Cain sets off on a journey that will slowly change everything he believes in. And, after meeting Rosetta, he will cast off the doctrines of his youth and realise the malevolence of his own actions. Soul Catcher is certainly not a book that will lift your spirits or cheer you up on a rainy day. Its content is harsh, gritty, and intense. And, it is obviously well researched, which makes the story appear more real and authentic. I would not say it was an enjoyable read, because how can this sort of subject matter ever be described in this manner? Nonetheless, as the front cover states, it is certainly rich in detail and contains a very dramatic narrative. This novel will be a feast for those who eat up this kind of fiction! Soul Catcher does have its flaws, the love story between the two main protagonists seems largely fuelled by lust on Cain¿s part. Cain¿s love for Rosetta seems only to fill a basic human need, rather than to be a meeting of the minds. Perhaps if she had been a bit older and not so beautiful, Cain¿s change of attitude would have had a lot more gravitas. A thirty¿six-year-old man, with a physical deformity, falling for a twenty-two-year-old, blue-eyed, dark-skinned beauty, is not much of a stretch. Having said this, their doomed romance does have some beautifully poignant moments. And, although the book has some very likely plot twists, the reader is left guessing to the very end as to how their liaison will end if, in fact, it does. In Soul Catcher, the true horrors of a land that was about to be torn apart by war are vividly brought to life. Soul Catcher describes a very bleak odyssey that may, at times, appall the contemporary audience. I do not consider this novel a work of great note, as its content is too clichéd and predictable. Despite this, Soul Catcher¿s moral lesson is a powerful one: Change begins when one person stands up and says, ¿This is wrong and should not continue!¿