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Orphan Elixir by Joseph Hirsch

Orphan Elixir

by Joseph Hirsch

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This novella is written 1st person singular narrative through the eyes of the protagonist, James Gallowbraid. The story opens with Gallowbraid’s release from a California prison where he served seven years for stagecoach robberies. Set shortly after the Civil War, 32-year-old Gallowbraid recounts his past to the reader as he settles into a sparsely populated Mission community that isn’t all that it seems.

Hirsch’s research is excellent, and his voice consistent and appropriate for the period. The protagonist is a well-developed, humorous character. Hirsch’s descriptive narrative is admirable, and the prose is almost poetic. Based on the genre, the impressive vocabulary may distract from the plot in places. For example, “It was as certain as the spread of ague.” The word fever would have moved the story along at a brisker rate. Overall, the pacing and structure is good, which is commendable when dealing with a limited length. I would have liked the main conflict to enter earlier. More history regarding the strange antagonist would have set up the turning point to flow into the climax, but the stylist decision is understandable - the narrating character didn’t know the backstory.

If you are a fan of Westerns with a psychological twist, Orphan Elixir is a novel I would recommend.
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  LEFraser | Feb 2, 2015 |
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