Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tom Hall & The Captain Of All These Men Of Death - Russell Hill

Tom Hall & The Captain Of All These Men Of Death
Russell Hill
Caravel Book/Pleasure Boat Studio, Mar 1 2015, $17.00
ISBN: 9780912887258

Eddie Hall’s wife left him and their tweener son Tom in Chicago to move back to Kentucky with their eight year old daughter Pamela.  In 1945 tuberculosis forces Eddie to quit his job at the race tracks near Chicago.  Soon afterward Eddie, accompanied by twelve years old Tom, ride the train to the Metzenbaum Sanitarium in Arizona where he expects to die.

No healthy child has ever arrived at the sanitarium before, so no one knows what to do with Tom.  In nearby Vallecitos, the lad makes friends with three Indian boys (Willie, Tiny and Chief), and at the sanitarium with some of the “Lungers” and Nurse Larry.  Tom becomes confused when he sees his dad dancing with Larry and over the unnecessary death of Willie.  When his father informs him that they, Larry who caught TB working at the clinic, Tiny and Chief will head to Los Angeles as Metzenbaum is a quack, Tom looks forward to new adventures.

With a title reference to John Bunyan, Tom Hall & The Captain Of All These Men Of Death is a fascinating coming of age historical.  The stunning insight into the TB clinics of the 1940s grips the reader as if we are with Tom witnessing firsthand how a sanitarium was run.  While coming across as a novella sequel to the remarkable sanitarium subplot; Tom and company’s trip to Southern California provides a deep look at life in post WWII Los Angeles, but though extremely well-written lacks the dynamic force generated by the stay at Magic Mountain.

Harriet Klausner

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