The Thin Gray Line
Reviewed By: Susan Keefe
Susan Keefe reviews and promotes poetry, fiction and non-fiction, and is also author of the Toby's Tails series of children's books.

In The Thin Gray Line, award-winning author, Michael Smith, has, by skilfully blending historical accuracy, with his incredible storytelling ability, written an outstanding final book in his American Civil War trilogy.

Set at the end of the American Civil War, this story begins with Clyde McCallister arriving home to his farm in Tennessee, where he is eagerly greeted by his wife Joanie, and twin sons Timmy and Tommy. In the upstairs bedroom lies a young soldier, Luke Pettigrew, a hero of the Battle of Shiloh.

The soldier, is at first unable to remember how he arrived there, but as his memory slowly returns, he remembers being shot at the battle of Gettysburg, and the events which followed…

As he reels from the realisation of the impact on his life that gunshot has made, he finds himself having to come to terms with the fact that his life will never be the same again. In the blink of an eye, like thousands of others, the cost of his bravery has made him an amputee. However, as his strength returns so too does his fortitude, and so, with resilience and inventiveness he moves forward. 

In this epic adventure we follow Luke as his destiny unfolds. Drawn through his determination, compassion for others, and his affinity to the plight of other amputees, he returns to life as a field medic, and in doing so reveals the true horror of working in field hospitals, in insanitary conditions, with crude tools and only laudanum, and whisky for pain relief.

Through Luke’s eyes, and the author’s incredibly descriptive writing, the reader can almost hear the screams of pain, and the sounds of the saw cutting through bone, and truly understand the impotence felt by the medics and doctors treating the horrendous injuries of war.

Luke finds himself in strange situations, battling with ethical and social issues, defending others and fighting for what he believes in. I was extremely interested to read at the end of the book the ‘Author’s Notes’ on the history of James Hanger and his prosthetic company, as it features so prominently in the book, and also about some of the lives of other well-known real characters in the story.

For me, this book stands out from any other American Civil War book I have read as a real insight into the social history of the time, and of a country divided. I do feel that if young people were to read historically accurate stories like this one, the political and social reasons behind wars, the impact of prejudices indoctrinated on generations, and the resulting impact of these, would be better understood.

In Summary: A powerful coming-of-age story in which we see a young man, broken and lost, then empowered by determination. Within these pages his fascinating story unfolds and we follow his fight as he strives to overcome difficulties, experiences romance and passion, embraces responsibility and ultimately finally discovers acceptance. Highly recommended! – Susan Keefe  

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The Thin Gray Line is available from Amazon