The Mother Brain Files: Civil Wrath Book Review
By Mother Brain
I have enjoyed western movies ever since I was in the Clint Eastwood phase back in high school. That opened my eyes to the works of Sergio Leone, John Sturges, Sam Peckinpah, John Ford, and countless western genre movie stars such as John Wayne, Charles Bronson, etc. Unfortunately, there have been very little stories told about black heroes in the old west in general.
That was until seven years ago when I met an independent Hollywood actor/filmmaker from the early 1970s named John Merenda. When we first met, Mr. Merenda presented me with an early draft of a screenplay for a potential film about a black soldier turned bounty hunter during the Civil War who hunts down a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Seven years later, the screenplay became a published novel entitled Civil Wrath. After reading this 387 page masterpiece, I truly believe it is destined to not only be adapted for the silver screen but also it is an untold story about our nationâ€™s history that must be presented to the world.
The protagonist of the story is Moses Washington, a tough but religious Union soldier initially assigned to lead a group of black officers to deliver a Union payroll. But during the mission, a group of Klan members led by Benson Krowley ambush the officers, rob the payroll, and leave Moses for dead. As soon as he recovers, Moses learns of Bensonâ€™s identity and becomes a certified bounty hunter for the Union. His assignment: Capture Benson and turn him in for a bounty of $3 thousand.
Over the course of the story, Moses captures Benson and drags him through the desert in order to get to Fort Bell in California. Just as soon as they start nearly dying from thirst after five days, they encounter an Indian woman named Evening Starr aka Eve and her Negro son, Kim, who help them restore their health despite the fact they neither man is to be trusted. But it doesnâ€™t take long before Moses develops a romance with Eve, a bond with Kim, and the increasing anger towards the loud, racist attitude of Benson. The latter leads to a violent but fulfilling battle in the desert between the two. Meanwhile, a white Union doctor named Duvall gets word about the Klanâ€™s mission to kill Moses and his allies in the border town of Calico. So Duvall finds himself in a race against time to warn Moses about the impending ambush.
What Civil Wrath delivers that I find lacking in todayâ€™s storytelling is the amount of substance that these characters have. The Moses character in particular is clearly a man on a mission, fighting every inch of his muscles from killing Benson knowing heâ€™ll be a rich man if he brings him to justice; however, he also has a weakness to women, particularly Eve who stands her ground as a strong Indian woman with secrets of her own.
The book, while fiction, also references famous Army scouts such as Big Jim Beck, Red Johnson, and Spike Monroe. These are not names you would normally hear in the history books. Yet, they were instrumental in helping the U.S. Army win significant battles against the Mexicans and many of their real traits were fused together in creating the Moses character.
If the book has any downsides, it is very heavy on character backstories which often drag the main premise a bit. But itâ€™s worth while once you read the actual meat of the story which is Mosesâ€™ mission to bring in Benson for his bounty. Also, the racist language of the Benson character as well as his Klan is very unsettling to read; however, it still adds to the reality of the story and it only makes the readers want to root for Moses to do some damage to them and take names.
Overall, Civil Wrath is a well-crafted and well-researched piece of historical fiction that revives the grittiness of the fading western genre. It has one of the best buildups to an explosive and bloody ending Iâ€™ve ever read in literature. As of this writing, Mr. Merenda is currently working on two more Civil Wrath books to complete the story as a trilogy and is also in early negotiations with AJ Epyx Productions to produce the film adaptation of the first book.