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Croftons Fire [Paperback]

Keith Coplin
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 19.00
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Book Description

Feb. 1 2005
If Elmore Leonard had written Little Big Man or Kurt Vonnegut Lonesome Dove, the result might have been something like this blazingly original, acclaimed debut novel by Keith Coplin that "has roared out of the gate with all cylinders firing" (Booklist).

In 1876, a green lieutenant named Crofton barely escapes Little Big Horn, after seeing Custer killed by his own enraged men-before they themselves are massacred-under a beautiful Western sky. Such ironies are not lost on Crofton, as he faces the absurdities of war. A reluctant hero in the bloody crucible of empire, Crofton will go halfway around the world-from a "whore's war" in Kansas, to a rebellion in Cuba, to a showdown with the Ku Klux Klan, to the horrors of the Zulu Wars in Africa. He will get shot, endure betrayal, be subject to the schemes of such legends as Grant and Sherman, find love-and eventually arrive at something that might be called wisdom.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Coplin's debut novel soars well above most humdrum historical fiction, borne aloft by graceful prose, compellingly likable characters and a spirit of heartfelt humanity. West Point graduate (class of 1874) Lt. Michael Crofton begins his military career in earnest at Little Big Horn when he's sent over a nearby ridge to see what's going on with his commanding officer, Gen. George Armstrong Custer, and Custer's 260 troopers. ("We all disliked Custer, a braggart, a malefactor, a hound for glory. But, oh, the man cut a figure on horseback.") After a hairsbreadth escape from Crazy Horse, Crofton, the polar opposite of Custer in all ways except courage, embarks on a life of action and adventure. After being shot in the chest by a French whore he's attempting to rescue, he sees action on the steamy shores of revolutionary Cuba, shoots his way out of a Ku Klux Klan siege, toils behind a desk in Washington, D.C., and ends up fighting alongside gallant British comrades in the East African Zulu War. In combat as in life, Crofton always acquits himself with honor. Along the way he finds love, acquires an unusual bride, meets a gallery of luminaries (Generals Grant and Sherman among them) and lives a full and satisfying life. Author Coplin supplies his unassuming and modest hero with enough self-deprecating humor and honesty to keep him from being too unrelentingly perfect. Readers accustomed to more formulaic shoot 'em ups may find the novel less than riveting, but those who care about fine writing and a satisfying story will find all of that and more in these pages.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Coplin, a 60-year-old first novelist, has roared out of the gate with all cylinders firing. His debut is a soldier's story, part Tim O'Brien, part James Jones, but with the underlying humor of Little Big Man. It begins with a simple sentence, "Something had gone terribly wrong," spoken by Second Lieutenant Michael Crofton, who just misses Little Big Horn but watches in horror as (in this version) Custer's own men turn their guns on their foolhardy commander. As the novel follows Crofton through skirmishes with a sharpshooting prostitute, a gang of frontier KKKers, and on to bigger battles, first in Cuba and then in Africa during the Zulu war, the point of view never swerves from the individual soldier in the chaos of battle, torn between the overpowering impulse to stay alive and the need to do his job and not let down his fellow soldiers. That dilemma is at the heart of all good war novels, of course, but Coplin manages to translate it into terms both utterly fresh yet disarmingly ordinary. The novel isn't quite as sharp when it moves away from the battlefield to Crofton's family life, but even when addressing more subtle relationship issues, Coplin keeps the narrative hurtling forward in overdrive. This rambunctiously entertaining mix of western and war novel is brutally realistic when it needs to be but also has room for humor and a bit of romance. A resounding success. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
By ADB
Format:Hardcover
Let me explain!
The novel is very good, and has the potential of a good film script... but mainly is very well written, with good atmosphere and even bearable "slang"...
But, and it's an important BUT for me!, I think the novel would'nt have suffered a bit for a little more historical acuracy... all records says the body of G.A.Custer had TWO bullet wounds (ONLY TWO!) one in the front (breast) one in the temple..., I do not mind a bit if the author embraces the thesis of mass suicide (I do not believe it happened that way (mass suicide I mean!) but probably some of the troopers and officers at the LBH kept the last bullet for themselves...); but I nearly stoped reading after such ludicrous afirmation as Custer been shot in the back MANY TIMES! by his men, and even the silly (for unnecesary) reference of Crofton been part of a detail guarding wagons! (there were not wagons at the LBH!, only a mule pack train!)...
You see, I do not understand why this gratuitous mistakes... It could have been perfectly posible to adapt the plot of the novel to reality (I mean Custer could have been shot in the front by an enraged soldier for fiction sake, and even administered a shot in the temple afterwards... and change the mention of wagons for mule pack... and there you are... fans of history and specially the LBH would'nt have been so disapointed in the first few pages! (I nearly throw the book to the bin after 20 pages!... but curiosity (and the price) kept me reading on...)
I am by now reading the middle part of the book, and it's very good (I am slightly afraid of what would happen with the zulu war (military speaking)... but I do not care as long as the novel is good, but why not be accurate as G.McD. Fraser FLASHMAN? tapestry???).
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5.0 out of 5 stars Men will be men ... May 19 2004
Format:Hardcover
The reviewer who expressed concern that Crofton's Fire was light on military detail has a point. That said, the point is moot. Neither Flashman nor Crofton is, essentially, about military history. The contrast between Flashman and Crofton is, though, a very interesting one.
While the action in Crofton's Fire occurs during various exotic and pedestrian military assignments and engagements of the post- Civil War period, this fine novel is really not about the particulars of military history. Although the developing technology of military killing is central to Crofton's experience and reflection, the novel is not centered on battlefield tactics or weaponry and so forth.
The action of Crofton's Fire is centered on the coming into adulthood of Crofton. The theme here is the difficult but real possibility of building a self, a manhood in this case, in a world of death and dying and doing so without being defined by the horrors of one's time or by the pursuit of the opportunities inherent in skirting those horrors.
Flashman, on the other hand, defines his manhood through pursuit of his ambitions, and by doing whatever it takes to realize them. Crofton, quite the opposite, builds his manhood by transcending ambitions or, put another way, by constraining his ambitions in service to what he regards as higher causes: development of a sense of self-worth, humility, loyalty to his comrades, creating a loving family.
The beauty of Crofton's Fire lies in the reader's sense that Crofton's struggle to manhood appears to happen naturally, not easily, but naturally, without the didactic quality of an overt morality play. It is rare that a moral hero avoids being repugnantly good. Crofton does.
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3.0 out of 5 stars decent book--but not flashman Jan. 6 2004
Format:Hardcover
There is a reasonable selection of good fiction by 20th century
authors about 19th century military life: Cornwell's Sharpe books,
Saunders' Fenwick Travers series, and Fraser's excellent Flashman
novels. There are also innumerable potboilers, and I'm not
including here the naval side of the military. Crofton's Fire is a
decent, well-written novel that incorporates military action from
the Little Bighorn to the Zulu War--quite a lot of military action
but not a lot of the detail that helps distinguish the previously-
mentioned novels. For me, an important question is always "Do I
want to reread this book? If yes, 1 year later? 2 years? Or
do I take this book down to the local used-book dealer and sell
it?" I also ask myself when I finish the book "How much of what
I've just read do I remember?" When I first read Fraser's
Flashman, many years ago, I knew I wanted to reread it within a
year, and I was annoyed that there was only this first book
available at that time. With Cornwell's Sharpe books, I'm
hanging on to the ones I have, and will eventually reread them--
but I have not bought the most recent ones in the series. I'll
keep Crofton's Fire, and I'd like to see the next in what might
be a series.
With the Flashman and Sharpe books, there is a lot of detail
about the military actions--both authors expected to be writing
a lot of novels in the series, so they did not feel a need to
cover a large number of different battles in a single book.
These books consequently give a good flavor for military life,
weapons, strategy/tactics, etc.
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