Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fiction

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fiction

Article excerpt

Title: Gone for Soldiers Author: Jeff Shaara Data: Ballantine, 317 pages, $26.95

Review by Jeff Thomas

What we have here is either the blossoming of a unique form of historical fiction, or the burgeoning of a publishing enterprise. With the arrival of the third book from Jeff Shaara, it's starting to feel like the latter.

Shaara is two years off the release ofThe Last Full Measure, which completed the Civil War trilogy begun byThe Killer Angels, his late father's seminal treatment of Gettysburg. Now the enterprising son is back with Gone for Soldiers, the story of the American army's overpowering march to Mexico City in 1847, the culmination of the war with Mexico. Despite a new backdrop, it is a story we have read before.

But then, readers keep running back to John Grisham, and Shaara cannot be blamed for giving an eager audience what it wants.

This time the main character is Winfield Scott, a hero of the War of 1812, an aging general whose disgust for the intramural backstabbing among his generals is matched only by his fatherly admiration for a quiet, thoughtful 40-year-old engineer named Robert E. Lee. Scott has tapped the obscure captain for his staff because he needs Lee's years of experience building fortifications -- namely, to blow them up.

This Lee does with great efficiency, despite never before having seen combat, and perhaps the richest vein in the book is Lee's awakening to his own destiny. Surrounded by preening commanders, Lee is excruciatingly selfless, disciplined:

"Lee felt a sudden rush of pride, thought, Yes, a good vantage point. I had thought so myself. He felt odd receiving Riley's compliment, felt the weight of that, thought, He's one of the good ones. General Scott knows it, the men know it. How different that is when a real soldier sees the ground, understands. …

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