Thursday, June 25, 2015

Chief of Thieves by Steven W. Kohlhagen: Review

Chief of Thieves (Sunstone Press, June 15, 2015) is a sequel to Kohlhagen’s historical fiction novel, Where They Bury You (Sunstone Press, September 2013), which won “Best Western of 2014” from National Indie Excellence Book Awards.

Chief of Thieves is historical fiction based on a factual story of con artist Lieutenant Augustyn P. Damours who meets his match in the form of Lily Smoot, former “working girl”---extremely good at the only real job available to young women in the mid-19th Century American West---turned con artist. Lily finds herself in the center of a triangle interwoven with the love story between the two of them and the reemergence of her “father figure” from her Santa Fe days.

The 1863-1876 novel follows Gus, Lily, and the other survivors of Where They Bury You from New Mexico through Colorado to the Oregon Trail, to their first ranch in the Washington Territory, then back to the newly founded Wyoming Territory. The narrative covers friendships, battles with the Cheyenne Indians, cattle ranchers, bounty hunters, rustlers, sheriffs, Colonel George Custer, General George Crook, and ultimately finds conclusive resolution on the banks of the Little Bighorn River.



I read the first book Where They Bury You and got so caught up in the lives of the characters and the history that I just had to delve immediately into this sequel.  The sequel in my opinion is even better than the first book because of the turbulence in the country, and especially in New Mexico in the years just after the Civil War.  It was a crazy, bloody period in our history that this book brings to life via characters both real and fictional.  It was fascinating for me, too, since my ancestors were pioneers, many of whom are buried in Texas Hill Country. I spent many years in New Mexico during my childhood and have fond memories of the land there.

The story telling kept me reading far into the night.  The characters and the events of the period seemed so real they became friends I was sorry to say goodbye to at the end.

Amazing reading that is filled with historical details and Western conflict; if you love historical fiction of the mid to late 1800's then you really won't want to miss these two books.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Reviewed by Laurie-J,

Where They Bury You (Sunstone Press, September 2013), which won “Best Western of 2014” from National Indie Excellence Book Awards.

In August 1863, during Kit Carson’s roundup of the Navajo, Santa Fe’s Provost Marshal, Major Joseph Cummings, is found dead in an arroyo near what is now the Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, Arizona. The murder, as well as the roughly million of today’s dollars in cash and belongings in his saddlebags, is historically factual. 

Carson’s explanation that he was shot by a lone Indian, which, even today, can be found in the U.S. Army Archives, is implausible. Who did kill Carson’s “brave and lamented” Major? The answer is revealed in this tale of a group of con artists operating in 1861–1863 in the New Mexico and Arizona Territories. As a matter of historical fact, millions of today’s dollars were embezzled from the Army, the Church, and the New Mexico Territory during this time. 

In this fictionalized version, the group includes the aide de camp of the Territories’ Commanding General of the Union Army, a poker dealer with a checkered past in love with one of her co-conspirators, and the Provost Marshal of Santa Fe. It is an epic tale of murder and mystery, of staggering thefts, of love and deceit. 

Both a Western and a Civil War novel, this murder mystery occurs in and among Cochise’s Chiricahua Apache Wars, the Navajo depredations and wars, Indian Agent Kit Carson’s return to action from retirement, and the Civil War. The story follows the con artists, some historical, some fictional, during their poker games, scams, love affairs, and bank robberies, right into that arroyo deep in the heart of Navajo country. Includes Readers Guide.



This book grabbed me early on and kept me interested throughout.  This is an epic story of New Mexico (and Texas) around the time of the Civil War.  There is so much going on with groups of people interacting and fighting; all trying to find a way to survive in the harsh, dryness of the beautiful desert.  Sometimes, I had trouble keeping all the factions and leaders straight in my head.  The author's knowledge of the period clearly shines through and the story is crafted in such a way that it is never boring or dry.

I enjoyed the book immensely and was glad for the opportunity to dive into the sequel so I could find out more about the characters and the events that shaped the country, the tenacious settlers, and the others struggling to hang on to a disappearing way of life and lawlessness.

This book was given to me in exchange for my honest review.

Reviewed by Laurie-J


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