Wolves of Eden

Written by Kevin McCarthy
Review by Katie Stine

The Dakota Territory in the American West in 1866 was a brutal place. The United States Army, swollen with hardened veterans of both sides of the Civil War, was still in the throes of the genocide of the Native Americans. But those are monolithic terms, and the populace of both sides was anything but.

This novel is a mystery, solved by time and by bloodshed. Investigated by the perpetually inebriated Lieutenant Molloy, an Irishman, and his aide, Sergeant Kohn, a Cleveland Jew, they try to solve a murder of a white man and his wife who ran the store—and the whorehouse—at Fort Phil Kearny in Dakota Territory. But there they meet up with two brothers, Tom and Michael—Irishmen who fought for the Union. All these men have seen and done things that chafe at their humanity. Tom, once handsome and smooth-talking, took a bullet to his face during the war, which disfigured him not only physically but spiritually. Only the affections of Sarah, an Indian woman whose nose has been cut off, and who is a prostitute at the Fort’s “hog ranch,” can ease Tom’s rage.

The interactions of the various ethnic groups—the white American nativists hating the Irish, the Jews, and the Quakers; the Pawnee hating the Sioux; the Cheyenne who refuses to speak to the Pawnee scout; the Quakers refusing to break bread with the Jewish sergeant—all make for a fascinating, multifaceted conflict. There are many sides, many motives, but everyone seems to agree that Fort Phil Kearny is a terrible place to be in December.

Wolves of Eden is a book of the soldier, a book of cold nights, aching feet, and a longing for a moment of perfect beauty which will never come. Highly recommended.