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Shavetail by Thomas Cobb


by Thomas Cobb

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    Far Bright Star by Robert Olmstead (DeltaQueen50)
    DeltaQueen50: Similar in style and subject matter, both authors excel in description and dialogue.

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Shavetail by Thomas Cobb is a character study of three men who serve at the remote outpost of Camp Ramsey in southern Arizona in the year 1871. Ned Thorne is a young, seventeen year old runaway, and as a new recruit he is ill prepared for life in the army. Both Captain Robert Franklin and Lieutenant Tony Austin are veterans whose posting here is perceived as a punishment from General Crook for past mistakes. Franklin is desperate for redemption, while the more introspective Austin ponders life and nature.

Although the local Chiricahua Apaches are staying peaceful, another band, fleeing from a betrayal, have attacked a small ranch, and it is believed that a woman has been taken. A patrol is formed and sets out to ascertain where these Apache are, as a full rescue mission cannot be undertaken until they have the permission of General Crook. The tension mounts as time passes and this permission is not forthcoming. Eventually, something happens to goad the troopers of Camp Ramsey into heading out into the unforgiving desert to save this woman.

Shavetail is far from an action driven western. This is a thoughtful, descriptive piece of writing that is far more character-driven than plot-driven. The landscape of southern Arizona is realistically painted, and we can smell the juniper and mesquite, feel the burning sun and sense the dust clogging the pores. The hard life of a soldier is laid out for us to examine and Cobb does not shy away from showing the base nature of men.

Both the subject matter and the writing brought Robert Olmstead’s Far Bright Star to mind with both authors being particularly strong with the dialogue. Swinging from harsh realism to the poetically beautiful, Shavetail was an absorbing read that I will long remember. ( )
5 vote DeltaQueen50 | Oct 24, 2011 |
Not very good story. Well written but just a bit dumb in my opinion. All the characters were about 25 degrees off center and story line goes nowhere. Sorry -- I wanted to like it. ( )
  repb | Jan 10, 2010 |
Not a revenant of the "western" genre, but an example of its offspring -- the "historical novel" set in the American west. A coming-of-age novel, recirculating a number of standard themes: Indian captivity, dishonored army officers seeking redemption, etc. These are offset by some original touches: an officer struggling with clinical depression, an isolated ranch wife addicted to pica, and simmering homophilia amongst the troops. The characters do a fair amount of writing of their own (letters home, diaries, journals), and I think Cobb has captured well the somewhat stilted language used by people of that era in their correspondence, as opposed to their spoken language, which he also renders effectively. However, he is not at his best describing action; it's often difficult for the reader to achieve a clear picture of the various ambushes, flash floods, treacherous mountain crossings, etc. Overall, a worthy effort, though. ( )
  jburlinson | Jul 12, 2009 |
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To Randy

In Memory, Donald Barthelme, Frederick Busch, Gary Caret, and George Cobb
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Under the feathery branches of a mesquite tree twenty feet in diameter, among the litter of the tree -- small oval leaves, rotting beans, bits of cholla dragged by pack rats trying to build refuge -- lay a diamond-back rattlesnake, thick as a grown man's forearm, coiled in folds, suspended in a state neither asleep nor awake.
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Fleeing a shameful past, seventeen-year-old Ned Thorne joins the U.S. Army and, in 1871, is sent to the dangerous Arizona territories, where he joins his captain and a ragtag troop in the search for a missing woman supposedly kidnapped by the Apache.

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