Preview – Ralph Peters “Cain at Gettysburg”

17 04 2012

Forge sent me a copy of Ralph Peters’s Cain at Gettysburg, a novel of the Civil War. Please, please, please don’t take this to mean I will make any kind of habit of previewing novels. I won’t – I don’t have the time or inclination. This is an exception. I’m about a quarter of the way done with this. It’s a really well written novel – the characters have a lot of depth, and the whole work is more nuanced – and down & dirty – than The Killer Angels (which I think of more as a YA book). By merit, and based solely on what I’ve read so far, Cain should supplant Angels at the top of the Civil War novel heap, but I think the Electric Map lovers out there will cling desperately to the latter book for a long while. So far I’m very pleased, particularly with his decision to focus much of the book on 11th Corps. However, this is a novel; novels need certain character types that are black or white, and Cain is no exception to this rule. So far, though he’s not yet appeared in the book, it looks like Oliver Otis Howard is being set up as a black hat type. I can’t say that I agree with how Peters is molding Howard so far, as I think it flies in the face of evidence so far as his character goes. But this depiction of O. O. is conventional and comfortable to most, and I realize I’m in the minority with my thoughts on him (most people can’t get past an emotional – even irrational – approach to Howard, which I think says more about the analyst than the analyzed). I’m willing to set such things aside when reading a novel, particularly a good one, which Cain certainly is. I’ll post a fuller review when I’ve finished.

FYI, Peters is a retired U. S. Army officer, journalist, and TV talking head on military and intelligence matters. As reader Jeffry Burden reminds me, Peters is also the author of the Abel Jones series of Civil War detective novels, under the pen name of Owen Parry.

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7 responses

17 04 2012
Ted Savas

I have it on my shelf, a Xmas gift from a neighbor. I will slip it closer to the top of the stack.

17 04 2012
Harry Smeltzer

Think you’ll enjoy, Ted.

17 04 2012
Jeffry Burden

Ralph Peters would be better known to fans of historical as “Owen Parry”, his pen name while writing the excellent Abel Jones series (“Faded Coat of Blue” and “Bold Sons of Erin” among them). I am acquainted with him; he is a first-rate military mind, and I look forward to “Cain”.

17 04 2012
Harry Smeltzer

You’re right, Jeffry. I knew there was something I left out, and I have all but one of the Parry novels here – in them, Peters also does not stray from “conventional wisdom” vis the big name bad guys of the ACW.

17 04 2012

I recently finished it, Harry, and I’d be interested to see your views. Like you, I’m not crazy about his Howard characterization — and I think most of the Generals were roughly sketched to correspond to their historical interpretations. I did think he gave Meade a fuller persona than generally acknowledged. His “everymen” were well-drawn or so I found.
I did enjoy it, though I would quibble with Booklist saying that it’s a better book than Shaara’s Killer Angels. I think they are too far removed in style to make that comparison.
Having said that much, I’ll belay more comments until you’ve finished the book… I want to be sanguine that I divulge no spoilers. :)

17 04 2012
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks Aly – I think the “everymen” is what sets Cain apart from “Angels” and what makes it more real, for lack of a better term.

20 04 2012
Chris Evans

Looks interesting. I’m a big fan of ‘The Killer Angels’ so it would be neat to see how the two differ.

I still think that the best modern day Civil War set novels are by Howard Bahr: ‘The Black Flower’, ‘The Year of Jubilo’, and ‘The Judas Field’. I find them quite incredible in their realism, heart, horror, and humor. I really recommend them to anyone interested in the Civil War.


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