Black Knife by Henry P. Graelle
Doc Jacobi, a Civil War veteran surgeon, travels the territory serving medical assistance to towns between the Noel mountain range and Sessions River Indian territory. Along the way, the doc and his trusty Appaloosa named Bell encounter thieves, murderers and hustlers. In Black Knife, the Doc and Bell face two killers, renegade Indians and a rogue marshal.
- Title: Black Knife
- Author: Henry P. Gravelle
- Publication Date: 9/25/2015
- ISBN: 978-1-62420-166-0
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Black Knife by Henry P. Gravelle
Published by Rogue Phoenix Press
Length: 16,000 words
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Browncoat Ninja
Black Knife tells a tale of Doc Jacobi, a former Confederate army surgeon, and his faithful horse, Bell, as the doctor offers his services to small, mountain communities. While traveling between two of the towns he serves in his rounds, Jacobi crosses paths with a pair of rough-looking customers who claim to have recently been attacked by a native war party. Soon thereafter, the Doc discovers a single young warrior who has fallen down a ridge, nearly to his death. Jacobi's skills and experience at saving life from mass bodily trauma serve him well, and as the young man clings to life, Jacobi and Bell bring him to Baron, their next destination.
Once there, he enlists the help of Billy, a New Orleans debutante turned traveling prostitute, to watch over his patient, but trouble multiplies in Baron as Jacobi learns that the two men he met on the road were fleeing murder charges and that the local marshal, the Doc's rival, has led a posse in the completely wrong direction. Worse yet, the men also victimized the wife of the nearby Indian tribe's chief, and unless Jacobi can help bring the scoundrels to justice quickly, the resulting vendetta will threaten the entire region with bloodshed.
This was an entertaining story. The majority is told in first person perspective and Doc Jacobi's voice, granting an instant bond with the character and the opportunity to listen in on his imagined conversations with his horse, which adds a layer of charm to an otherwise gritty tale. Still, even for one who was reared on John Wayne era Westerns, the tale managed to avoid the relentlessly grim tone of so many modern Western films without backing down from the brutality that found fertile ground in that often-lawless era. The characters are well-realized for a fairly short story, and there are some inspired word choices and turns of phrase. The story would have been more enjoyable if it had been longer, with perhaps one more major plot development, but that is largely a matter of personal taste. What really prevents the book from receiving a solid 4-star rating is a lack of polish throughout. A couple of word choices in the first person voice seemed anachronistic, and there were enough typos and similar errors to be distracting. One more careful edit would have gone a long way.
If you're looking for a quick read with good pacing, and a Western that is both tough and fun, then Black Knife deserves a read.