Monday, October 17, 2011

Mike Blakely's "Come Sundown" is a symphony of words

This review was originally published March 29, 2007 in the Boerne Star

Mike Blakely’s latest historical novel, Come Sundown (Forge, $27.95, ISBN 0-312-86705-0, November 27, 2007), a literary saga chronicling the clash of cultures between native Americans and the white man and the conflict of values between the American north and south is as relevant in today’s world as it was during the Civil War. Blakely’s lead character, French fugitive, whiskey trader and adopted Comanche, HonorĂ© Greenwood, relates the story of the American settlers’ confiscation of Indian land in the midst of fighting over slavery.

Says Greenwood, “I felt as if the fate of the entire world rested on my shoulders. In reality, looking back, I was nothing more than a pawn in a trifling struggle that would scarcely warrant a paragraph in the book of world history. But it was my paragraph to write, and I was prepared to fill my ink well with blood.”

Hence, with ensanguined pen, Greenwood, called Plenty Man by the Indians, recounts the tale of his involvement with the Indians during the American Civil War.

Long time friend and confidante of Kit Carson, Greenwood finds himself embroiled in a complicated test of loyalties between his compadre and his adopted band of Comanches. Summoned by Carson to join the New Mexico Volunteers of the Union Army as a scout, Greenwood leaves behind his beloved Cheyenne bride, Westerly, and joins Kit in Albuquerque. There, in New Mexico, he enlists in the Union army only to find that his old nemesis, Luther Sheffield, is also a member of his unit. Violent clashes and heavy combat at Valverde Ford and Glorieta Pass with the Texas Confederates, renegade Indian attacks, and the constant necessity of having to watch out for Sheffield’s attempts on his life all take a toll on Greenwood. Fearing that he will soon be pitted in battle against his adopted Comanches, Greenwood resigns his post as Kit Carson’s scout and returns to his tribe.

“Trouble raged in the West, where Colonel Kit Carson’s forces had invaded the very heart of Navaho country, striking where no soldiers had ever ridden before. I knew the hoops of time would roll and whir and come crashing to earth again, and I feared they would in time come violently trundling down the Canadian River Valley to my very home,” recounts a worried Greenwood. And in time, that was exactly what occurred.

“I was in the big, bloody middle of it. It happened sixty-three years ago. . . They called it the Battle of Adobe Walls. It happened on November 25, 1864,” recalls Greenwood. “Telling this grieves me to this day. . . But you should know what I have suffered, so that you may appreciate the strength of the human spirit, and the will of man to rise above the heaviest of sorrows.”

Come Sundown is one of those rare books that you can’t put down, one that stays with you long after you’ve placed it back on the shelf. Blakely, also a singer-songwriter, skillfully crafts an unforgettable story of a war within a war—the Civil War and the Indian Wars spawned from enmities between the north and south—and does so with an approach skillfully orchestrated to have the reader feel that he/she is a character in the novel.

Blakely’s use of language is fluid, a poetic prose, and his dialogue is immaculate. His characters are endearing, believable, and enduring: Chief Shaved Head; Kills Something; seer and medicine man, Burnt Belly; Blue; Plenty Man’s wife, soul mate and companion, Westerly; Kit Carson, and, yes, even Greenwood’s nemesis Luther Sheffield.

Come Sundown is symphony for all the senses; a painting whose brush strokes have been laid on the canvas of a tale as strong and sure as those rendered by Charles M. Russell and with the bravado of a violin and bow in a baroque concerto delivered by Vivaldi himself.

Blakely is a Spur Award winner for his novel The Summer of Pearls.

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