Keith Coplin Crofton's Fire

ISBN 13: 9780399151125

Crofton's Fire

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9780399151125: Crofton's Fire
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In 1876, Crofton, a young second lieutenant, embarks on a series of extraordinary adventures that lead from Little Bighorn, from which he escapes just before Custer is killed by his own men, halfway around the world to a rebellion in Cuba and the Zulu war in East Africa, getting shot, finding love, enduring betrayal, and discovering wisdom along the way. A first novel. 30,000 first printing.

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About the Author:

Keith Coplin is a professor at Colby College in Kansas. His articles, stories, and poems have appeared in many publications. He is at work on his second novel.

From The Washington Post:

Is there a place these days for a novel like Crofton's Fire? Randy Wayne White -- a fine thriller writer -- does Keith Coplin an inadvertent disservice by likening this book to Little Big Man and Catch-22. Such dust-jacket comparisons lead to high expectations. But this quiet, very readable story of a young American army officer in the 1870s simply lacks the imaginative range or the verbal fireworks of those two modern classics. Instead what one finds is a tale by turns mildly comic, a little contrived, gently if determinedly critical of military grandeur and governmental callousness, and never particularly surprising.

In other words, Crofton's Fire is the sort of book that, in years gone by, one might pick up off a library shelf, flip through and check out for a week or two. Novels like this -- neither ground-breaking nor generic -- were once the mainstay of a fiction-reading public. A good read. But ours is now so thoroughly a blockbuster nation that the chief virtue of any book, film or exhibition is Spectacle. Our tastes have coarsened. New romantics, we want to be astonished, awed, overwhelmed by son et lumière. But just as Crofton's Fire critiques war's supposed gloriousness, so it also resists an obvious flamboyance.

Coplin's novel -- his first -- opens with West Point graduate Michael Crofton observing the massacre of George Armstrong Custer at the Little Big Horn. As usual, Custer is a vainglorious, charismatic lout; he ends up being shot by his own soldiers when they realize that he has led them into a massacre. Shortly afterward, Crofton must himself lead a troop into a small Western town to settle a "Whore's War" between the local citizens and some Texas cowboys. Seems Charolais, the town's prostitute, defended her honor and killed one of the Texans. This incident soon escalates and results in yet another massacre.

"The only unique aspect of the Lemon Corner donnybrook," Crofton observes after interrogating a mortally wounded boy, "was the willingness of these men not only to kill to keep Charolais, but to die to keep her.

"This approached something sacred, something almost patriotic, and in an absurd way, it was to be admired. The tone of the boy's voice, the menacing look in his cloudy eyes, these features spoke of commitment, the will to sacrifice one's self to a higher cause. Whore or not, the woman at the heart of all this bloodletting was, only in a matter of degree, different from Menelaus's Helen, and the epic slaughter of Lemon Corner was of the kind of Troy, only smaller."

Crofton's tone is easygoing, just slightly formal (as is appropriate to the age he writes about) and reflective. (However, I do think those commas around "only in a matter of degree" reverse the intended meaning. A better construction would be "the woman at the heart of all this bloodletting wasn't, except in a matter of degree, different from Menelaus's Helen.") We soon relax and enjoy listening to Crofton relate his youthful adventures, which include a deadly skirmish with the Ku Klux Klan, a secret mission to Cuba and bloody battles in Africa against the Zulu.

The young officer invariably performs well and bravely, always doing his duty. Along the way, he trades quips with his drunkard sergeant, comes to love his bumbling fellow officer Sorensen, feels pity for Indians and Africans, admires the unflappable courage of the imperialistic British. Yet this career soldier isn't at all gung-ho or jingoistic. In fact, he is at heart a family man, admiring his parents, utterly infatuated with his beautiful wife, devoted to their young children.

It doesn't take a reader long to suspect that Keith Coplin means for us to draw analogies between the 1870s and more modern wars. In Vietnam, according to urban legend, grunts might shoot their stupid officers; the CIA ran guns to Cuba and planned to assassinate Castro; ethnic conflicts of gut-wrenching horror and violence are with us still. In Michael Crofton we are meant to see a sensible, decent man manipulated by the foolish and callous, the entrepreneurial and sentimental, all those romantic cowboys who think of war as a kind of boys' game. Hence the comparisons to Little Big Man and Catch-22.

At one point in his career, Crofton oversees Arlington National Cemetery.

"All of this," he tells his friend Sorensen, "this empty ground, crammed full of corpses. There will be men like you and me tending graves ad infinitum. And when this ground is full, they'll find more ground. And the whole world, farmland, ranchland, land where there are houses now, will be one huge cemetery." He pauses, then adds, "And all the dead will be honored."

So, will Crofton's Fire find a few readers? It should. But remember it's merely a good book, no more, in a time when being just a good book is seldom quite good enough.


Copyright 2004, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.

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Book Description G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2004. Hardcover. Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. 1st Edition. Crofton's Fire. Novel of a young military officer who barely escapes the Little Big Horn and continues his adventures in Cuba and East Africa, meeting such figures as Grant and Sherman. Signed by the author.1st edition. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2003. Hard cover in unclipped dust jacket Language: eng. Signed by Author(s). Seller Inventory # ABE-1501349063647

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Book Description GP Putnam And Sons, 2004. Hardcover. Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. Book Description: In 1876, a green second lieutenant named Crofton barely escapes Little Bighorn-where, before Crofton's startled eyes, Custer is killed by his own enraged men-only to find that his life's adventures have just begun. Over the next three years, curiosity, fate, and the schemes of others will take him halfway around the world, from a "whore's war" in Kansas to a rebellion in Cuba to the horrors of the Zulu war in East Africa. Along the way, he will encounter such figures as Grant, Sherman, and Hayes; get shot; find love; endure betrayal-and somehow, through the crucible of blood and fire, arrive at something that might be called wisdom. Crofton's Fire is a constantly surprising story, replete with lean, sharp writing, vivid characters, and unexpected turns-that rarest of all things: a true discovery. About the Author Keith Coplin is a professor at Colby College in Kansas. His articles, stories, and poems have appeared in many publications. He is at work on his second novel. Seller Inventory # ABE-937812838

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