Pale Blue Light

Aug 12, 2013

“Pale Blue Light”                                                             


By Skip Tucker


NewSouth Books


$27.95 ( Cloth )

392 pp.

“Pale Blue Light” is a Civil War novel, sure enough. It is also an action/adventure novel; a murder mystery with the protagonist as detective; an espionage/counter-espionage novel; a romance novel, with a dash of healthy eroticism and two genuine sexual perverts, a masochist and a sadist; and a travel narrative with the characters rounding Cape Horn in a clipper ship and then, in the manner of Jules Verne, crossing America in a balloon. It is a novel of the cavalry and a cowboys-and-Indians story, and an alternative history story.

Although the jacket copy makes great claims for historical accuracy, that is not why one should read this story. “Pale Blue Light” is an entertainment, not an education.

Rabe Canon, the protagonist, is, as he needs to be, a kind of superhero: 6 feet 7 inches tall, physically powerful of course, a master with his twin pistols, made by Krupp, in Germany, especially for him, 50 caliber, not 45, seven rounds, not six. He is also ferociously adept with his cavalry saber and can throw a knife with unerring accuracy.

Canon will go on a secret mission to San Francisco to save the Confederacy and rescue a damsel in distress. In this first novel, nothing is left out.

A superhero needs a superhorse and Rabe has one. Hammer is coal black, the largest horse anyone has ever seen, 18 hands at the withers, and of great intelligence. At a touch or a numbered signal, Hammer will prance, rear back, or paw the ground counting. He will “drop to the ground either to hide, or to act as a shield for his master.”

He has been taught code words, which he remembers. Hammer will, if needed, refuse to let anyone ride him, or gallop in a great circle, returning to the original spot. He has more tricks than a dog act on the old Ed Sullivan Show.

Rabe Canon was raised on Mulberry Plantation 20 miles outside Montgomery by his biological father, Buck, and his spiritual father, Mountain Eagle, a Cherokee chief who led his people on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma and then returned to Alabama, fighting and then becoming blood brothers with Buck. Mulberry Plantation had once been Cherokee land.

Buck owned 200 slaves and would have freed them, we are told, except “he would be shunned by the other plantation owners.”

The reader needs to know Rabe does not fight to preserve slavery.

Besides his physical prowess, Rabe Canon also has spiritual powers, some occasional prophetic visions and meaningful dreams.

At the opening of the novel, Canon is invited to Lexington on a turkey hunt with one Professor Tom Jackson of the Virginia Military Institute. Jackson’s an eccentric, brilliant fellow, a strict vegetarian who seems to nourish himself mainly on lemons.

When the war breaks out Captain Canon will take with him to Virginia 300 men, all mounted on coal black horses, and serve as the Black Horse Cavalry under the professor who is, of course, General Stonewall Jackson. Jackson is one of several extraordinary Confederate generals; the Yankee generals are dolts, and just the sight of the Black Horse unit combined with the sound of the rebel yell is enough to scare most Yankees into full panic and flight.

However did they win the war?

No matter how over the top this novel is, there is no denying the energy and pace. We move through exciting crises and cliffhangers, like a Saturday afternoon serial. Although the editor should have cut a number of skirmishes, and corrected a number of typos, and although there is no disciplined point of view—just as you are wondering what a minor character is thinking, you are admitted into his mind—“Pale Blue Light,” a reference to the light emanating from General Jackson’s eyes, is a page turner.

Tucker takes Jackson and Canon through battle after battle, First and Second Bull Run, finally to Chancellorsville where Jackson is killed, as everyone knows, by friendly fire. Canon believes it was murder and that there is a conspiracy of traitors in the Confederate ranks.

He will get to the bottom of it. And readers will stick with him until he does.