Vengeance In My Heart: A Novel of the Civil War by David K. Moore
reviewed by Deb Houdek Rule for Civil War St. Louis
In 1863, Confederate guerrillas raided Lawrence, Kansas, unleashing in turn a torrent of revenge on western Missouri by Kansans and Federal soldiers. The author tracked down dozens of eyewitness accounts of the raid and aftermath, from diaries, memoirs, interviews, newspapers, and articles. This is the first true and complete account of the Lawrence Raid, using only reported dialogue, written in a novelized form. All characters and events in this book are real. A prologue and epilogue are also provided for historical context.
Vengeance In My Heart is a book that lies somewhere between a fictional novel and a non-fiction historical account written in narrative style. Billed as a novel, the book nevertheless includes an interesting and well-written non-fiction prologue that sets the historical stage for the story of Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, Kansas.
The novel portion begins with the Missouri guerrillas gathering to discuss and vote on the raid. The dialog is said by the author to be only that which was documented to be the things the people actually said. While historically intriguing, this tends to make the dialog somewhat more stilted-sounding than you’d normally expect to find in a novel. The book also diverts from standard novel expectations in that it focuses on no particular characters in their stories. Instead, the book is written in largely an omniscient point of view with little character development or exploration of the internal workings and motivations of the individuals.
The story follows through the entire trek to Lawrence, and the raid, in exacting detail through a series of vignettes. Through these scenes the author builds up a picture of the entire scenario and the events of that horrific day. The people of the town are the most clearly drawn as individuals–undoubtedly because the preponderance of accounts comes from this source–while the guerrillas often fade into nameless, faceless, drunken thugs. The guerrillas would kill brutally, or spare with polite kindness, in a way that to the people of Lawrence struggled to fathom:
Such casual and random acts of unbelievable violence would be repeated over and over. The citizens were at wits end. One group would ride up and tell them they had nothing to worry about, only to be followed by a drunken gang totally unable to restrain themselves. A random act of kindness, such as a child giving William Gregg a rose, could spare the home and family. The wrong answer, or even no answer at all, would end in murder.
Though sometimes awkward in the writing, and not what you might expect of a standard fictional novel of the war, many scenes of Vengeance In My Heart stayed with me for quite some time after reading them, and gave a better overall picture of the events of these intense days in history. This book makes an interesting and worthwhile addition to the history of this region.