cover image Simon the Fiddler

Simon the Fiddler

Paulette Jiles. Morrow, $27.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-296674-2

Jiles’s gritty and richly atmospheric seventh novel returns to the post–Civil War Texas she explored in News of the World. In the last year of the war, 23-year-old Simon Boudlin, an orphan musician from Kentucky who has avoided a stint in the Confederate Army, is rounded up by a couple of conscription men. After the war concludes, his body and fiddle still relatively intact, Simon and some friends are commissioned to play for a formal dinner for Confederate and Union officers at Fort Brown, Tex. There he is dazzled by Doris Dillon, the Irish governess for Colonel Webb of the Union Army, and determines that he will somehow buy some land and make her his bride. Simon and Doris trade letters over the next couple of years as he and his friends become “creatures of gaslight and shadows,” traveling around coastal Texas for stray saloon gigs, and Doris works off her indentured servitude for the Webbs in San Antonio and fends off unwelcome advances from the colonel. When Simon finally makes his way to Doris, trouble ensues. Jiles immerses the reader in the sensory details of the era, with special emphasis on the demands and rewards of a ragtag Texas fiddle band. Jiles’s limber tale satisfies with welcome splashes of comedy and romance. (Apr.)