Thank you so much for allowing me to read “The Falcon.” I have been reading Civil War fiction for over 50 years, and I can scarcely if ever remember reading a book that did the subject more justice than did Mr. Hicks’ work. “The Falcon” is remarkably good history; indeed, the book is accurate down to the smallest details regarding American life in 1861. It is also an intriguing “whodunit,” weaving an intricate pattern of deception and revelation. Finally, it brings to life characters that are engaging and totally believable. “The Falcon” reminds us that with the nation in peril at the start of the Civil War, thousands of men from across the North came together in common cause to try to save the nation . . . I am confident that anyone who reads his work will come away with a greater understanding and appreciation of the Civil War generation. Please give my compliments to Mr. Hicks, and tell him to keep up the good work! ~ Dr. Donald Elder III
We received that review last night from an American history professor from Eastern New Mexico University. His background is the kind that gave me nightmares – when it comes to reviews – i.e. Civil War expert, edited/published/annotated several collections of Civil War letters through the University of Iowa Press, it goes on.
This, of course, is no reflection on him, it’s a reflection on me. Most assuredly. See, the Hanlin novels (although, come to think of it, especially in light of recent developments, it really is one novel serialized in seven installments), are really about people, and relationships (or lack thereof), stress, horror, sex (or lack thereof), bigotry, religion (or lack thereof), crime and punishment, they just happen to be wrapped around the Civil War.
I took Tolstoy to heart:
War permeates every psyche and circumscribes most human interactions.
What better place, then, to put a story about family dysfunction, disillusionment, personal betrayals, and just plain injustice than in a war? And what better choice can there be for an American writer than the Civil War? Because when you look past all the sanctimony, all the bloodless reenactments, all the honorable foot-soldiers led by noble officers calmly orating out of Henry V in the heat of battle of movies and novels and comments on social media, you get the bloodiest, nastiest, most at-your-throat, most altering event in American history.
The Civil War in the East, then, is my outline. The Civil War in the East is so well-known to Civil War ‘buffs’ as to be mantra: “McDowell giveth way to McClellan whoeth defaulted to Pope, but, Lo! The usurper was usurped and McClellan reclaimed his crown, only to be laid low in the snow by a pale rider on an iron horse . . “
The challenge, then, in placing a story in the Civil War is to use history as an outline, be very, very subtle; not take side trips to explain fascinating (to you and a handful of experts) historical events (like the Trent Affair); or pander (” I remember every detail. The Rebels wore gray, you wore blue.”); or just plain get it wrong (see any random but continuous thirty seconds of They Died with Their Boots On); or get it wrong through omission (Braveheart – the Battle of Stirling Bridge . . . without the bridge); or preach; or a hundred other plot/dialogue buzz kills.
I firmly believe – and will be speaking to this at a lecture next month – in the Bart Simpson school of historical fiction: Bart plays a video game based on math, gets really into it . . . is having a blast until he stops suddenly and says, “Hey, wait a minute, I’m learning!”
The key to all this, is to be true to the history – not a slave to it, but true to it. Unless I’m willing to go the Quentin Tarantino, lets change the ending of World War II route (which I loved and didn’t even cringe at … much); what’s going on that affects William Hanlin’s day-to-day life has to be accurate.
I worried about the history, actually considered it the weakest part of the story. I even have ‘an out’ typed and ready to go: “Hey, the book’s the recollections of an eighty something year old … he’s going to mess up stuff – ’cause he’s eighty-something!”
My excuse . . . although, of course, anyone reading the book wouldn’t buy William ever missing anything.