For Adair Randolph Colley, at 18 the eldest daughter of a widowed Missouri Ozarks schoolmaster and justice of the peace, the Civil War becomes personal when her father, who has remained neutral in the conflict, is arrested by the Union militia, their home is nearly burned and their possessions stolen. At the start of this spirited first novel, Adair and her two younger sisters try to follow their father's captors, but Adair is falsely denounced as a Confederate spy. At the prison in St. Louis, upright commandant Maj. William Neumann is embarrassed to be interrogating women and has requested a transfer to a fighting unit. He's touched by Adair's beauty and spirit and asks her to give him some information so she can be released. Instead, she writes the story of her life, augmented by folk tales and fables, and he finds himself falling in love. When he gets his reassignment orders, he proposes marriage and asks her to escape, promising to find her after the war. Thus begins a long and terrible journey for each of them. Poet and memoirist Jiles (North Spirit) has written a striking debut novel whose tone lingers poignantly. Not a typical romantic heroine, Adair has the saucy naïveté of an unsophisticated countrywoman and the wily bravery born of an honest character. Jiles's strengths include a sure command of period vernacular and knowledge of the social customs among backwoods people, as well as a delicate hand with the love story. Sure to be touted as a new Cold Mountain, this stark, unsentimental, yet touching novel will not suffer in comparison. Agent, Liz Darhansoff. (Feb.)
Forecast:Family stories were the basis of Jiles's plot, augmented by Civil War letters and documents prefacing each chapter. While the writing is literary, the book is more accessible than Cold Mountain, and could easily win a wide audience, boosted by regional author appearances.