Dark, wounded hero Augustus Cain, Mexican War veteran and son of a Virginia planter, wakes in a whore’s bed and a laudanum haze to an offer he can’t refuse. To pay a gambling debt, he must once more undertake a profession he’d sworn off—again—heading north after a pair of runaway slaves. One of the slaves is the beautiful blue-eyed Rosetta, for whom her master will pay a very high price to recover—and who will herself pay the highest price not to be dragged back to the man who sold her infant son down river.
Michael White teaches us the power of strong characterization and of breathing new life into common human situations. He brilliantly brings the violence and divided loyalties of the antebellum years to life; fiery John Brown is just one of the obstacles Cain must overcome. Fast action, well-crafted scenes and a high body count make this perfect for the bestseller list and big screen, with something of Cold Mountain in it to delight fans. But all is not leveled for the lowest common denominator. He writes beautiful, descriptive passages: the sky is evoked with visceral words—“a vast coffin lid”—which keeps it from being an overused motif. Our hero and heroine are surrounded by exquisite period details and soul-wrenching decisions that get to the very core of America’s dark heart.