CHENNEVILLE rating: five stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐.
After the Civil War, former Union soldier John Chenneville tracks his sister Lalie’s killer, a crooked deputy named Dodd, across hundreds of miles of battle-ravaged Indian territory and the U.S. frontier. His hard and painful journey takes him from Missouri to the Gulf Coast of Texas in CHENNEVILLE by Paulette Jiles (William Morrow/HarperCollins, September 12, 2023). Dodd also murdered Lalie’s husband and infant son (Chenneville’s namesake). As he flees from Chenneville, Dodd is still committing murders, but being a deputy, he is above the law.
Disclaimer: Thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins for sending me a copy of this book for review consideration. All opinions are my own.
Chenneville wants to kill Dodd more than anything, but on the long manhunt in 1866-67 Chenneville finds himself being less of an avenger and more of a savior, both of animals and people. Chenneville attracts life and goodness at almost every stop on his quest for vengeance. Because of a terrible war wound in Chenneville’s head; Dodd’s willingness to steal, cripple, and kill horses to move faster; and a compulsion to be honorable in every situation; Chenneville falls far behind his quarry.
A brilliant and lovely telegraph operator is the biggest distraction from Chenneville’s mission, because she knows what he does not: his real mission is to map his post-war life. To discover what kind of man limped out of that field hospital in Virginia where they sewed his head back together. To envision a future for one John Chenneville. Along with a US Marshal who thinks Chenneville committed one of Dodd’s murders, the benevolent ghost of his own future healed and whole self tracks Chenneville through the middle of what will be the USA, just as surely as he tracks the evil Dodd.
Evocative and moving, this novel was impossible to put down or to read quickly. Jiles did some brilliant period research and the novel is bursting with rich and livid descriptions of a vanished landscape. I loved CHENNEVILLE as much as Jiles’s National Book Award finalist NEWS OF THE WORLD, which became a movie starring Tom Hanks. I’m a pretty stoic reader, but the romance in CHENNEVILLE made me cry and hug my Kindle. Have telegrams ever been this sexy? If this novel doesn’t become a miniseries or at least a movie I’m going to feel cheated.
I blogged about some of my favorite westerns in “Wild West Women” (April 5, 2023). Add CHENNEVILLE to the list! One of 2023’s best books for me for certain.
The contemplative pacing, immersive writing, and goodheartedness of the main character in CHENNEVILLE reminded me of A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by Amor Towles (Penguin Random House, 2016) which will be a Showtime movie starring Ewan McGregor.