Cry of the Hawk – a book review

Cry of the Hawk by Terry Johnston

About the Book – Western potboiler that will stain the reader with grease, blood, and smoke. Jonah Hook, Confederate soldier, gains an early release from a befouled Union prison by signing up for a year as a “”galvanized Yankee”” to fight Indians on the frontier. Meanwhile, his wife and three children, waiting for him at home in backwoods Missouri, are abducted by the “”Avenging Angels”” of Brigham Young, out … More sweeping the land to rid it of threatening “”Gentiles”” but showing much more aptitude for raping, killing, and looting. The angels sell Hook’s boys to Comancheros and save Hattie, the daughter, for future deflowering by a wealthy Mormon buyer. The crazed leader of the pack, Jubilee Usher, takes Gritta, the wife, as a concubine. While she and Hattie, both kept on a steady dose of laudanum, tour the countryside with the depraved Mormons, the depraved white men fight the depraved Indians, allowing Jonah to meet famous scouts and soldiers like Jim Bridger and George Custer. The Indians and soldiers skirmish, graphically slashing and scalping and creatively mutilating each other. Jonah finally gets his release, only to return home and find a vacant ruined homestead. He and cousin Artus set off to search for the family. Along the way, Jonah kills buffalo for the railroad, fights Indians again, and falls for Grass Singing, an Indian prostitute. He finally locates the Mormon angels and…some issues won’t be resolved until the sequel. In his fast-paced but uneven latest, Johnston (Carry the Wind, 1982, etc.) magnifies the violence and stench of the Old West.

About the Author – Terry C. Johnston was born on the plains of Kansas and immersed himself in the history of the early West. His first novel, Carry the Wind, won the Medicine Pipe Bearer’s Award from the Western Writers of America, and his subsequent books, among them Cry of the Hawk, Dream Catcher, Buffalo Palace, Crack in the Sky, and the Son of the Plains trilogy, have appeared on bestseller lists throughout the country. Terry C. Johnston lives and writes in Big Sky country near Billings, Montana.

My Review – Having read many of Johnston’s other novels, I knew what I might be getting as I picked this book up off the library shelf. Johnston captures life in the western frontier during the mid-1800s, right after the Civil War. He’s done a tremendous amount of research on this area, it’s history, it’s people and characters, it’s geography and life in general on the frontier. I think these novels would be classified as historical fiction since he works in historical characters – “Wild Bill” Hicock, General George Armstrong Custer, Roman Nose, and a host of others – historical places and battles, alongside his key fictional characters of Shad Sweete and Jonah Hook.

The action moves along steadily, especially during any of Johnston’s fight scenes. As in all of Johnston’s novels, the violence is graphic. He holds nothing back in showing either the mutilation which the Indians inflicted upon the white man or the brutality with which the whites exerted against the Indians. It’s not pretty and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Jonah’s plight is a pitiable one. Having been released from a Civil War prison camp to serve in the army in fighting and establishing the western frontier, he longs for home and family. When he is finally able to go home (about half way through this tome), he finds Gritta, his wife, and his children have been taken (he suspects this right from the start, although he entertains doubts about her simply leaving to go back east to her family). The remainder of the story follows his efforts to search for them. There are times that I grew impatient as it seemed his searching got put on the side burner while he continued working for the army. But I have to remember, they had no phones, no electronic means of searching at all. They barely had the telegraph (and the lines for these were continually cut by the Indians). So travel was slow (much of the first year was spent getting about by foot) and the searching even slower. The ending leaves you hanging for a sequel.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction of the American frontier during the Indian Wars of the mid- to late-1800s, this might just be the book for you. If you have a queasy stomach over vividly descriptive depictions of violence, I’d leave this one on the shelf.

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