Minnesota crime author Chuck Logan came up with the biggest jerk of a protagonist ever in "Absolute Zero." I gave the novel its own absolute zero in this review. But there was something about ol' Chuck that I liked. No matter how much I hated his characters, his writing style piqued my interest.
I decided to give him another chance, this time with his 2008 release, "South of Shiloh." The novel centers on a Civil War re-enactment that goes haywire when a Minnesota man is shot and killed for real.
John Rane, a reckless photographer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper, heads to Mississippi to find the killer. He teams up with local law man Ken Beeman. They lift the lid off years of bad blood, set to boil over at the next re-enactment.
As a Civil War buff, I was hooked on this book. If you're unfamiliar with the War Between the States, this novel is as much educational as it is entertaining. Logan's haunting descriptions bring to life the Old South as it decays alongside the battlefields. He fleshes out complex North and South perceptions about the war, never siding with one over the other. Many of the reasons Americans killed each other in the 1860s are the same reasons people do re-enactments now.
This fascinating back drop is the perfect setting for a murder. It's a surprise more people aren't killed in real life during these re-enactments.
"South of Shiloh" is at its best when it sticks to exploring the murder and the Civil War. Logan builds suspense until the final re-enactment. The last 100 pages or so are what can only be described as "unputdownable." I read the book in line to get a flu shot.
The B story isn't as gripping. It pertains to the widow of the murdered Minnesota re-enactor. Although it's critical to the plot, I couldn't help but jump ahead to the murder investigation.
I also couldn't help but notice similarities between "South of Shiloh" and "Absolute Zero." Both contain a rich person in a coma with people squabbling over a will. And both, unfortunately, contain an ass of a protagonist.
John Rane, the photographer, is another of Chuck Logan's too anti anti-heroes. John's head isn't straight ever since he killed seven Iraqi Republican Guards in Gulf War I. After returning home, he knocks up his latest squeeze and leaves her with the bill.
Granted, Rane is more likeable than Phil Broker, the protag from "Absolute Zero." At least Rane tries to redeem himself.
In the end, I liked "South of Shiloh." It wasn't "tell everyone I know to read this book" good. More like "read this if you like history and crime fiction." It gives me a new appreciation for Chuck Logan. He's 1 for 2 with me. The extra chance I gave him proved to be worth it.