When I was a kid, Westerns were still a big deal, not just in books, but in movies and television. In retrospect, it was quite strange how quickly they disappeared from the American landscape. That’s why I was really glad to see a new writer like Peter Grant continuing this tradition. Surprisingly, he’s not even American-born; he’s a white emigre from South Africa. Grant’s book “Brings The Lightning” was published in 2016. Its audiobook version was narrated by Bob Allen.
This novel had one of the strongest beginnings I’ve seen in quite some time. Walt Ames, a veteran of the War Between the States is returning home after his side’s surrender. He’s on horseback going by way of some remote trails when he notices something amiss. A gang of bushwhackers lies in wait for him. With the skills he’s acquired during the war, he turns the tables on the scoundrels and ends up in possession of their ill-gotten treasure.
Walt returns home to see his parents, but he doesn’t plan on staying. The South holds nothing for him anymore. While in his hometown, he comes to the aid of Rose, his former teacher. Now a widow, but still young and desirable, she’s an obvious romantic interest for Walt. She plans to sell her late husband’s farm and move in with her sister in St. Louis, so the two decide to travel together.
This is the point where the story drags a bit. Grant has done his homework, and knows a lot about the horses, wagons, and supplies the pioneers needed when settling the Wild West. He’s especially well acquainted with firearms, which happen to be Walt’s specialty. His discussions of the merits and drawbacks of various guns are interesting, to a point. Even for a gun enthusiast like me, it was a bit much. It’s somewhat of a compensation that narrator Bob Allen has a great voice.
The action picks up again as Walt and Rose head west. Part of their journey is by riverboat, where Walt makes enemies by exposing some crooked gamblers. Around that time, he befriends two recently freed slaves, hiring them as trail hands and bodyguards for the journey west. Together they face many dangers, including vengeful Yankees, highway bandits, and hostile Indians.
Though Walt is still in his twenties, his upbringing has made him a responsible fellow with a strong sense of right and wrong. He never attempts to take advantage of Rose, being old-fashioned about sex and marriage. Still, he’s not too honest to cheat his former Yankee enemies at times. To his black hired hands, he is fair-minded and charitable, contradicting the stereotype of the racist Southerner. When forced to fight the Indians, his bravery earns their respect. They give him the name “Brings the Lightning” to honor his expertise with guns.
Peter Grant’s “Brings The Lightning” is an absorbing novel that really gives the reader a taste of what America was like in the mid-Nineteenth Century. This tale features ordinary people facing great challenges and can be quite inspiring at times. Unfortunately, it lags at times but even those portions provide some good historical background. I recommend it to fans of historical fiction in general and Westerns in particular. Four out of five gears.