The Assassination of Ambrose Bierce: A Love Story

Don Swaim. Hippocampus, $20 trade paper (390p) ISBN 978-161498-154-1
Like Carlos Fuentes’s The Old Gringo, this absorbing novel from Swaim (The H.L. Mencken Murder Case) tracks Ambrose Bierce (1842–1914?) south of the border as the American journalist and short story writer journeys with Pancho Villa into the maelstrom of the Mexican Revolution. Conversations with Villa send Bierce into reveries about his past—including his Civil War service, his strained relations with his family, and his work for William Randolph Heart’s newspapers. Allusions to Bierce’s classic horror and war stories abound—Bierce refers to the specter of death that haunts him as the Damned Thing—and he frequently speaks in aphorisms culled from his satirical Devil’s Dictionary (“A martyr is one who moves along the lines of least reluctance to a desired death”). Although the novel’s “romance” comes belatedly and somewhat improbably, the “assassination”—repeatedly threatened by the bemused Villa—is a joke that runs throughout. Fans of Bierce’s writing should enjoy this semibiographical tale with a suspenseful plot as wild as some of his more fantastic works. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/22/2016
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