Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Caleb Thorn #4

By L.J. Coburn
Sphere, 1978

Thorn’s Raiders were the most feared seek-and-destroy unit on the Union side in America’s bloody Civil War. A gang of condemned criminals, they had been reprieved only to be sent on savage suicide missions against the Confederacy. They were led by Caleb Thorn, the young born killer with a personal mission of vengeance against the South.

But now, on the orders of his commanding officer, Caleb had been temporarily separated from his band of desperadoes. His murderous skills were needed this time not on a guerrilla raid into enemy territory but in the thick of one of the most viciously savage pitched battles of the war: the mass carnage that was Shiloh…

L.J. Coburn is a pseudonym used by two authors, Laurence James and John Harvey, and the latter wrote this book. Caleb Thorn is the shortest series written by the group of English western writers now known collectively as The Piccadilly Cowboys.

I always thought it was a shame there weren’t more of them, but at the time I read a quote from an author (possibly from Terry Harknett) who said writing a western series set in the America Civil War would be a financial disaster. Strange when you consider that the Caleb Thorn series must have been born from the fan praise for Harknett’s own Civil War flashback sequences in his highly successful Edge series written as George G. Gilman. But then again as Caleb Thorn only made it to five books then perhaps he was right?

As well as having it’s origins in those Edge Civil War books, this series also seems to borrow from the film The Dirty Dozen, in as much as the small group of soldiers that Caleb rides with are all vicious criminals saved from an immediate death sentence to fight for the Union.

The books are extremely violent, and all of Thorn’s Raiders, including Caleb, take pleasure from killing Rebels – or anyone else who gets in their way. Throughout the series a number of story threads continue from book to book, and Bloody Shiloh sees a grudging respect form between Thorn and his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Jansen - Thorn killed Jansen’s son in a duel and is thus hated by both Jansen and his wife. This story also develops Thorn’s relationship with Caroline Jansen, one that will lead to a bloody moment of madness that will have dire consequences for all involved, making this book a must read for followers of the series.

The rest of this story is fairly routine, and other than the Caroline Jansen storyline, doesn’t offer any surprises, even the identity of the traitor is easy to work out. Having said that the book does offer an entertaining read with extremely well written battle sequences.

Fans of the Piccadilly Cowboy’s work should not miss this book, indeed this series, if you can find them today as they are some of the harder PC books to find. Anyone else who enjoys books set in the American Civil War and/or westerns of the more brutal kind should consider picking this one up if you’re lucky enough to find a copy.

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Beth Rogers said...

Who agented this series?

Piccadilly Publishing said...

Beth - the eBooks are being published by Piccadilly Publishing and they have World Rights.

Piccadilly Publishing said...

The series is being published in eBook by Piccadilly Publishing. I think the original agent was Sarah Lutyns.