With Blood in Their Eyes
In 1918, four lawmen from Graham County, Arizona, climbed into the rugged Galiuro mountains to arrest brothers Tom and John Power for draft evasion. What ensued was the deadliest gunfight in Arizona history, with four dead. This non-fiction novel details the gunfight, the events leading up to it, and the twenty-eight day manhunt through southern Arizona
In the literary tradition of Cormac McCarthy’s and Larry McMurtry’s historical westerns Shavetail traces parallel stories rising out of the Arizona Territory—the coming of age of a boy soldier stationed at the Army’s most remote outpost, and a young woman’s terrible passage across the American frontier. Their paths cross in innocent and brutal ways as the Army tries to rescue her from Apache Indians fleeing their own atrocity.
Set in 1871, in the severe landscape of southern Arizona, Shavetail is the story of Private Ned Thorne, a seventeen year old from Connecticut who has lied about his age to join the army. On the run from a shameful past, Ned is desperate to prove himself—to his superiors, his family, and most of all, to himself. Inexperienced and troubled, he is as green as a “shavetail,” a reference to marking untrained mules as risky.
To endure this world, Ned must not only follow the orders of the camp’s icy, remote captain, Robert Franklin, but must also deal with the sly and cruel Obediah Brickner, their mule driver. Both older men have been damaged by their long military service, and both consider themselves able to survive the dangers of the Territory’s deserts and mountains—not just snakes, Indians and floods, but also each other. And each man is himself a separate danger to Ned.
And there are other characters, all richly drawn, who infuse Ned’s world: half-wit soldiers, the woman and her passage across a brutal frontier, embattled Apache Indians, and the paymaster who is at all times trailed by a philosophical peddler, and his fleshy whores who materialize from the desert to dance naked around campfires late into the night.
After a band of Apaches attack a nearby ranch where two men are killed and a woman goes missing, Ned’s lieutenant—a man seeking atonement for his own mistakes—leads his patrol on a near suicidal mission through rugged mountains and into Mexico in hopes of saving the woman and his honor. It is unlikely any can survive this folly, and those who do will be changed forever.
Shavetail, meticulously researched and vividly told, is a story often violent, and sometimes funny, of America’s westward expansion. Under the surface, it is also a series of love stories, stories of men and women searching to find love, to hold onto it, and to repair the damage it has done them.
Shavetail also marks the return of a great American literary voice. Cobb’s first and only other novel, Crazy Heart, was published in 1987 to great acclaim and edited by the legendary editor Ted Solotaroff. Cobb is also a former student of Donald Barthelme, who described Crazy Heart as, “A bitter, witty psychological profile of genius.”
Thomas Cobb was born in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in Tucson, Arizona. He is the author of Crazy Heart, a novel, and Acts of Contrition, a collection of short stories that won the 2003 George Garrett award for short fiction.
Advance praise for Shavetail
“The education to which Thomas Cobb’s eager young soldier is forced to submit combines such wisdom, pain, suspense, and nasty good humor that I simply couldn’t read this book fast enough. Of course I didn’t know what a “shavetail” was when I began, but learning that was only part of the education I was treated to. Guilt and innocence, blood and tenderness -- I can't imagine any reader who could resist.”
--Rosellen Brown, author of Civil Wars
“Shavetail is the story of the futility of war, and is as immediate and brutal as daily news from Iraq or Afghanistan, although the year is 1871 and the place is southern Arizona and northern Mexico. Cobb presents the landscape, the characters, and the conflict with absolute authority, producing a magnificent story in the tradition of Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.”
-- Richard Shelton, author of Going Back to Bisbee
Acts of Contrition
George Garrett Fiction Prize 2002.
"What’s remarkable about Thomas Cobb’s stories is that they manage, simultaneously, to be so hot and so cool. He takes a bead on men and their illusions--boys, too, halfway toward the adult passion that will forever bedevil them--and what he fixes in his sights is the male animal in extremis, pained, full of longing, and finally made sympathetic by his tough and honest observation."
Crazy Heart is the story of 57 year old Bad Blake, former country music star, now on his last legs, touring the country in a beat up Dodge van, playing in bars and bowling alleys. Addicted to alcohol and bad choices, he finds one last chance for his career and for his life. Redemption, he finds, is not easy.