||Jan 1 2001
Daniel Elton Harmon
Volume One of "The Harper Chronicles" series, which follows the mystery adventures of a 19th-Century crime reporter in South Carolina.
Six unmarked graves hold the secret to an older generation's hideous ordeal. . . . Escaped convicts invade a riverside campsite. . . . A ring of prestigious businessmen carry out a massive estate swindle in the state capital. . . . Shipwreck survivors sheltered at a Low Country fishing village have much, much to hide. . . . And the president of the United States turns to a small-city journalist to intercept a damaging piece of diplomatic correspondence. . . .
Harper, nonconforming and nonpareil crime reporter for the fledgling Challenge, finds himself in the thick of these and other dramas in the Reconstruction South. Through intuition, deduction, focused research and on-the-scene investigation, Harper probes to the heart of each affair. In the process, he often uncovers facts and circumstances he can never publish—and enters the hazy borderland between observer and participant.
From “The Chalk Town Train”. . . .
HARPER BARELY COULD DISCERN the hounds’ silhouettes near the foot of the front steps. Crouched and motionless, they growled almost imperceptibly. Harper stood at the darkened corner window of the empty parlor. The only light shining in the house was the kitchen lantern. Outside, one street light shown at the corner. No one could be seen within its circle, but enemies, he knew, were about. Harper, like Moore, heard the approaching whistle of the Chalk Town train. That told him it was almost 7:45. Then the minutes dragged by. Five? Ten? Twenty? Harper could not judge. He was about to move toward the open kitchen doorway so he could check his watch in the light—and then he saw it: a match struck at the edge of the woods across the street. Then a torch. A second torch. They hovered, lingering close together in the black surroundings. Harper could distinguish no human form. Suddenly one of the torches moved along the edge of the dirt street, away from the corner. Heading for the rear! Harper surmised. He lifted the 12-gauge. If he fired now, he believed, he might blow out the torch before it was out of range. Harper aimed, leading the moving light slightly, and squeezed one of the triggers. . . .
© 2001 by Daniel Elton Harmon. All rights reserved. Any use of this material without the author's express written permission is forbidden.
Historical Novel Society/Sarah Cuthbertson
Imagine a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Mark Twain and you get some idea of these entertaining stories set in post-Reconstruction South Carolina. Harper, a journalist on the Columbia Challenge, combines his powers of intuition and deduction with a newspaperman's observation and a nonconformist's detachment to investigate the crimes and mysteries that come his way. In "The Swindlers' Circle" he exposes a businessmen's financial scam; while covering a court case in Charleston, he meets some sailors ("The Derelict Seamen") whom he soon realizes are not the innocent shipwreck victims they claim to be; and in "The Tavern Horror" the sighting of a British Redcoat's ghost conceals a more sinister mystery. Some of his sleuthing unearths the traumatic past: ex-slaves fleeing injustice in "Convicts of the Congaree"; the tragic story behind some mysterious burials in "The Marion Graves."
Linking the 8 stories are the attractive character of Harper himself -- aloof, wryly humorous, a man of integrity who eschews the gratuitously sensational; his own crisp observations of the victims, villains, relatives and rivals who populate his days; and the vivid descriptions of the town and country settings of the tales.
Written with verve, wit, and freshness, this is a high-quality read from an author who, one feels, instinctively knows how to tell a good, old-fashioned story.
CrimeThruTime/Rachel A Hyde
Harper is a crime reporter for a South Carolina newspaper called The Challenge during the Reconstruction era. He not only reports on crimes and mysteries but sometimes even has a hand in solving them and in this slim volume of short stories he gets to the bottom of a murderous ghostly Redcoat, a soi-disant Devil’s Island escapee who intrudes on his camping holiday, finds out who lies buried in six unmarked graves that nobody will talk about and saves the President’s bacon among other things. This is what the book is about, but it conveys nothing of the magic of these tales. I am not normally a short story fan and always say I like a longer novel to get my teeth into but there is plenty in these brief tales to satisfy several sets of teeth. Drawing on a rich heritage of fiction Harmon has come up with a unique character that although he is never physically described comes to vivid life from his first introduction, and a way of telling the stories that kept making me think they were written back in the 1890s instead of just being set then. Think of Davidson Post’s Uncle Abner stories or Blackwood’s John Silence, mix them together and you have something like Harper and something of the ambience of these laconic – but well realised - vignettes. Harmon has taken words and crafted them into something that ought to be called literature. This isn’t a literary novel – there is nothing obscure here – but I think literary fans would find much to applaud.
A few words and a bold stroke of the pen and it all leaps to life in a way that many wordier writers must surely envy. I read a lot of historical crime but this has to be one of the best – and most imaginative – books I have read this year. One for the keeper shelf (it doesn’t even take up much room).
Blue Iris Journal/Elizabeth Burton
These days, anthologies tend to be either collections of the year's best something-or-other or compilations of literary short stories intended to elevate and edify. Both have their place in the scheme of things, but I suspect I'm not the only one who misses anthologies that contain just good entertainment.
If that's the case, may I offer for your amusement a slim little volume of tales by journalist Daniel Elton Harmon and featuring an historical counterpart of the author by the name of Harper. Mr. Harper is a reporter for the fictitious Columbia, S.C., Challenge in the almost-civilized era of the 1880s. The first compilation of his adventures, The Chalk Town Train & Other Tales is billed as Volume One of "The Harper Chronicles," and those of us who like nothing better than a rollicking good yarn will be waiting impatiently for Volume Two.
The title story pits Harper against a notorious sociopath, back before such people actually had a diagnosis. "The Chalk Town Train" is a story of corporate shenanigans, unadulterated evil and justice administered with more than a touch of irony. Indeed, the purveyance of justice is a recurring theme in the eight stories that comprise the book, with our man Harper using his skill and insight to ferret out the truth, sometimes when no one else can.
Mr. Harmon has a superbly deft hand with the short story, and his characters are sharply drawn with a few adept strokes. From first word to last, each of Harper's adventures proceeds without a stumble, and the reader who can stop after reading just one must have a will of iron. His style is crisp and effortless, setting scenes with an economy of language that likely owes much to the author's own career as a journalist.
Indeed, the only real flaw in The Chalk Town Train is that it's over too soon, and before the appetite is satisfied.
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