Mad Boy

Written by Nick Arvin
Review by Jeff Westerhoff

Poor Henry Phipps is a young boy whose mother is accidentally killed when the roof of their hovel falls in upon her. He also learns that his older brother, Franklin, has been reportedly executed by firing squad for attempting to desert from the American army in Maryland. His father has been in debtor’s prison in Baltimore, so Henry is all alone. Henry hears his mother’s voice telling him to take her to his father and bury her near the sea near Baltimore. Unfortunately, the British Army is on the attack and is presently outside Washington D.C. preparing to battle the American militia at Bladensburg. Henry stuffs his mother in a barrel of pickled brine, loads her onto a small cart, and heads for Baltimore to free his father, check on his brother’s body and bury his mother.

This is an aptly named novel of a young boy who hears voices and is called crazy by those he meets in his travels. Several interesting characters fill the pages, including an English deserter Henry befriends looking for loot in abandoned homes, runaway slaves, and Suther, the owner of the local plantation who wants the missing coins stolen from his home and feels that Henry knows their location. The pace of the story is unrelenting, with new characters and new problems for Henry to deal with. The author mixes in historical facts concerning the War of 1812 with his fictional characters trying to survive during and after the battles fought in Maryland. Read it to become absorbed in a fascinating and sometimes comical adventure.