#ThrowbackThursday ~ That Bright Land by Terry Roberts @robertsterrylee #HistoricalFiction, post War of the States

Renee at It’s Book Talk began this meme as a way to share old favourites, as well as books that were published over a year ago. Not to mention those that are languishing on the to be read pile for whatever reason.

This week I’m revisiting an audiobook which is narrated by MacLeod Andrews. That Bright Land by Terry Roberts is based on true events during the aftermath of the American Civil War. 

Jacob Ballard arrives at Alexander’s Station, North Carolina on his way to Warm Springs. He was to meet with one of a few contacts whose names he’d been given in Washington City by his uncle, Governor Zeb Vance. Under the pretence of investigating and assessing veterans’ disability claims, Jacob was charged with finding out who was targeting and murdering  veterans who fought for the Union. Returning to his birthplace held no appeal for Jacob, nor did the task he’d been set.

In the summer of 1866 I went down South to find and kill a man. It’s not what I would have chosen, and when I first arrived in the territory, I didn’t want to admit that’s what I was about. Nevertheless, I was well suited to the task – by my past and by the shadows it cast in my soul.

After his recovery from losing most of his left hand during the war, Jacob became a surgeon’s assistant before joining the Pinkerton Agency where he gained a reputation for hunting down suspects. Jacob is a damaged soul, haunted by the things he has seen and done during those terrible years, and not least by the nightmare of his amputation.

Even though the war had ended, many people in the mountains still suffered from the after effects, the loss and untold damage, both mental and physical, impacting on survivors and their loved ones. Communities had been torn apart by opposing loyalties. Where once there was trust and friendship, there was now suspicion and anger.

The historical aspect of this story was so revealing, I had no idea. Zeb Vance was the real Governor of North Carolina and the story is obviously set around and incorporates true events, including a horrific massacre of Union sympathisers. It’s a compelling narrative filled with sadness, hope, healing, understanding, love and humour, written beautifully with the authentic speech and social ways of the era. Jacob is a complicated and sympathetic character who holds no expectations for his future. It was interesting to get the story from his point of view, as someone who was born in the mountains, but felt disconnected from his roots, and fought for the Union. His visit to North Carolina starts off badly but was to prove his salvation.

Together, they propped me up sitting, the strange red-haired woman carefully tying the arms of my coat around my waist, for it turned out that I was naked. I realized suddenly that the broad, slow run of the river was only ten feet away, the sun glimmering on its surface searing my eyes.

As they worked to bring me up, they could see that my hand was mutilated. “The war,” she said, and the boy nodded.

I could feel crusted blood and sand on my neck and shoulder, and when the woman ran her hand through my hair in search of a wound, she found a nasty lump behind one ear.

The accurate details and the descriptions of places, scenery and people capture the aftermath of a horrific war, bringing it to life sensitively and with insight. Characters are realistic and believable and although the story is quite slow-paced it held my attention throughout. The overall effect is added to by MacLeod Andrews’ excellent performance, complete with accents and great characterisations. I loved it.

Winner of the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction and the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Prize. A new Southern gothic thriller from the winner of the 2012 Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction. In the Summer of 1866, Jacob Ballard, a former Union soldier and spy, is dispatched by the War Department in Washington City to infiltrate the isolated North Carolina mountain community where he was born and find the serial killer responsible for the deaths of Union veterans. Based on true events, That Bright Land is the story of a violent and fragile nation in the wake of the Civil War and a man who must exorcise his own savage demons while tracking down another.

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