Peter Grant’s “Brings the Lightning” is a western. It is the story of a confederate soldier who heads west after the war to make a fresh start. Of course, this is well mapped territory. Recently I reviewed the movies and novel called “True Grit” and that broadly falls into this sub-genre. But a time-tested plot can still be entertaining. What is required is the ingredients of any good story. The action needs to be interesting, the characters engaging and the writing style appropriate to the intended readers. For instance, if you intend to attract the extreme literary type reader to a tale of the west, then you probably select a highly introspective confederate protagonist. This will be the sort of hero who, when faced with danger, falls into a reverie and expounds (either to himself or to his companions) about the philosophical and theological ramifications of the action at hand. An extreme example of this would be the epic poems of Homer or Virgil. In these stories a hero will interrupt a battle to discuss his ancestry with the enemy. Doubtless there is some charm in this approach. This is not the style taken by Grant in the present book. The story tracks the progress of Walter Ames as he goes from cavalry soldier, to post-war civilian in the occupied south, to westbound settler. And the form of the narrative resembles the character of the protagonist. The approach is straightforward and direct. Ames encounters the altered reality of his new life and determines a plan for escaping it and overcoming his circumstances. He shows himself resourceful and flexible (as any good protagonist should) and proceeds to pick up the interrupted thread of his life and direct it where the great drama of the American West is being written. During this action, we will become acquainted with the paraphernalia of settler life. We learn about how the great army surplus of the Civil War is made available to civilians (either legitimately or through bribery) and details of the weapons and transport equipment enlisted into the settlers’ quest. We meet all sorts of people. There are riverboat gamblers, army officers and NCOs, tradesmen, craftsmen, thieves, murderers and schoolmarms. We meet trail scouts, freed black slaves, indian braves and outlaws from North and South. By the end of the story Ames has navigated from the Old South to the Rocky Mountains and gone from a young soldier in retreat to a tested and respected individual on the frontier.
On the cover, we see the subtitle, “The Ames Archives Book One.” So, this is a series. And the stage has been set for expansion of the plot in several directions and dimensions. It can be anticipated that several of the characters will have added importance later on and some unfinished business will resurface. All these things are expected and even necessary to expand the scope of the story to encompass some of the larger themes that exist within the western genre. But it’s important to tell the potential reader what he’s letting himself in for, more volumes. It’s an episodic story in a planned series.
Now for my opinion. I like it and recommend it. The prose is clean and uncluttered. The characters are sketched sufficiently and enjoyably. The subject matter is interesting and the plot contains enough excitement to justify its inclusion in this genre. It’s a good western. But just to be perfectly clear, you’re not getting James Joyce or Thomas Mann. This is more in the mold of Charles Portis. It’s an adventure story. If that is what you are looking for and you have similar tastes to mine, you may be happy with this book. If you’re looking for Hamlet, move on.