By Richard Buxton
Shire leaves his home and his life in Victorian England for the sake of a childhood promise, a promise that pulls him into the bleeding heart of the American Civil War. Lost in the bloody battlefields of the West, he discovers a second home for his loyalty.
Clara believes she has escaped from a predictable future of obligation and privilege, but her new life in the Appalachian Hills of Tennessee is decaying around her. In the mansion of Comrie, long hidden secrets are being slowly exhumed by a war that creeps ever closer.
The first novel from multi-award winning short-story writer Richard Buxton, Whirligig is at once an outsider’s odyssey through the battle for Tennessee, a touching story of impossible love, and a portrait of America at war with itself. Self-interest and conflict, betrayal and passion, all fuse into a fateful climax.
"Bet you wish you'd stayed at home now, don't ya?"
This wasn't Owen "Shire" Stanton's war, but he had made a promise a long, long time ago, and if nothing else, he was a man of his word.
Taylor Spenser-Ridgmont was handsome and charming. It was a good match. So Clara had packed her bags and followed her betrothed home to Comrie, Tennessee. But it was only after she married him that Taylor's true nature became apparent and Clara realised what a terrible, terrible mistake she had made. But alas, this was a mistake that could never be rectified. She was on her own, and no one could help her escape this dreadful marriage.
Shire knew what kind of man Taylor was before his childhood friend sailed across the sea to marry him. But who was he to question the choices of a Duke's daughter? Shire was only a school-teacher and a part-time farm labourer. He and Clara had no business being friends, let alone anything else.
However, a shocking discovery sees Shire set sail across the ocean to save Clara from the biggest mistake of her life. However, when he arrives in America, he finds a country on the brink of civil war. The only way Shire can navigate the South and reach his destination was to join the Union Army. Shire must reach Clara before it is too late, and if he has to fight every Confederacy soldier along the way, he will do so. But time is not his friend, and if the army does not get a move on, then it may be too late.
From the desolate graveyard that is holding so tightly to her secrets in Ridgmont, Bedfordshire, England to the horror of the Battle of Chickamauga, Whirligig by Richard Buxton is the mesmerising and wholly unforgettable story of one man's commitment to a promise that would take him on a journey through war-torn America.
Not since John Jakes fabulous North and South Trilogy has a story about the American Civil War captured my attention and left me breathless. Not only is Whirligig a wonderfully fresh take on the American Civil War, but it is also a story of courage, honour, friendship, and love.
From the opening sentence, I was enchanted. Buxton gives a masterful account of the lead up to the war and the war itself. Whirligig is a book that commands your attention, and it certainly deserves your admiration.
Buxton has lavishly evoked the land in which his story is set in. The canvas is a large one, from Victorian England to the war-torn South of the United States, and it is at all times luxuriantly detailed.
Buxton has captured the very essence of what life would have been like for a Unionist Soldier during the war. Within these pages, I found myself walking with soldiers, sharing their fear, their frustration, and in some cases, their utter boredom — for a soldier’s life is not just a single battle. The war and the Battle of Chickamauga, in particular, was wonderfully portrayed — a fitting monument one might say, to those who fought and died there. And through all of this is Shire's desire to reach Clara.
Buxton has a penned two highly appealing characters in Shire and Clara. Shire's devotion to his childhood friend is heartwarming and absorbing. Shire is a man who feels deeply and is compelled to act when he sees a grave injustice served to those he cares about. Shire risks everything, including his own life, to reach Clara. This devotion to a promise made Shire a truly unforgettable character.
Clara knows her place. She knows she cannot follow her heart and so Clara marries where she thinks she is most likely to find happiness. But when she reaches Tennessee and settles into life in Taylor's household, life is not quite what she dreamt it would be. This house hides some terrible secrets, and with time Clara learns these secrets and the role Taylor had in creating them, with dire consequences to herself.
Although Comrie is not a cotton-plantation there are still slaves, and slowly over a considerable time, Clara learns about these people who are forced to serve her, and she strikes a beautiful friendship with several of them. Through her actions, Clara also commands their loyalty, although not with a whip but with her heart. Clara is genuine in her respect for the slaves, and the feeling is eventually reciprocated. It was also fascinating to witness the effect the war had on the South and the fear of what the Unionist Army would do when they reached them. I thought this balance between the North and the South was very carefully drawn.
Buxton shows his ability as a writer with the depiction of Taylor. Taylor is manipulative, cruel, and above everything else, a compulsive liar. He is the kind of antagonist that sends shivers down one's spine. As often is the case, Taylor is also a terrible coward who cares nothing about the lives he destroys as long as he gets what he wants, and in the case of this story, he wants to destroy all evidence of the truth. His single-minded determination to hunt Shire down and kill him reminded me very much of Elkanah Bent in North and South. He is a vile man, but he certainly drove this story forward.
The historical detailing in this book has to be commended. Not only does Buxton have an almost intimate knowledge of the history of this era in America, but he has also captured the mood of England as she watched the events unfold. Buxton is a true historian with a novelist’s heart. Kudos, Mr Buxton.
This book and this story was what Buxton was born to write. Whirligig is a fabulous addition to any bookshelf.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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Richard Buxton grew up in Wales but has lived in Sussex for the last thirty years. He is a 2015 graduate of the Creative Writing Masters programme at Chichester University. He studied in America during his twenties and tries to return there as often as he can for research and inspiration. His writing successes include winning the Exeter Story Prize, the Bedford International Writing Competition and the Nivalis Short Story award. His US Civil War novel, Whirligig, released this spring, was shortlisted for the 2017 Rubery International Book Award.