THE THIN GRAY LINE
Michael Kenneth Smith
Independently Published (2019)
Reviewed by J.M. Lalli for Reader Views (03/2020)
“The Thin Gray Line,” by Michael Kenneth Smith is interesting, nicely plotted, and has a consistent protagonist, a Confederate soldier named Luke. We meet him after he has been seriously injured in the battle of Gettysburg, and he spends the rest of the book trying to put his life back together, while meeting an interesting cast of characters along the way. Although Smith uses a bit of artistic license as needed to weave his story, the book stays true to history, which includes Judah Benjamin, who advocated arming southern blacks to aid the cause; Emma Edmonds (Cuff), an enjoyable, feisty Union spy; and Bedford Forrest, a cotton farmer who became a Confederate army officer, and never adjusted to their loss. Luke also interacts with two little girls—a black orphan named Posey and a white girl named Samantha–who help him grow as a man and a father-figure.
This book flows nicely and is easy to read, even if the reader knows little of the Civil War. There is plenty of action both on the battlefield and as Luke journeys from one place to another. We are often, but not always, drawn into the scenes that—for the most part—seem real and believable. War is not glorified, and the day to day struggles for food, shelter, sleep and peace-of-mind are well-written, as are the horrors of being shot, waiting to receive medical treatment, and dealing with the incessant mental and physical pain. A few scenes could be expanded upon: Luke dealing with his mixed feelings for both his father and the southern cause, which—like most wars—was whitewashed. In the case of the Civil War, the south referred to it as “The War of Northern Aggression,” failing to acknowledge that the north was intent on ending slavery, which the south considered their prerogative to be dealt with as they saw fit. As Luke starts to question which spin is correct, he regrets some of what he did during the war, which haunts him at times and is poignant.
The ending seems a little forced, but the book is smoothly written, the plot develops naturally, and it ends on a hopeful note as Luke finds a place to call home, and a future among like-minded people. Overall, I found “The Thin Gray Line” by Michael Kenneth Smith to be a book that Civil war buffs or anyone who likes military adventure will enjoy.