The Contract Surgeon

Dan O'Brien, Author Lyons Press $24.95 (324p) ISBN 978-1-55821-932-8
Humanizing heroes on both sides of the conflict, O'Brien reimagines the capture and tragically suspicious death of Crazy Horse, the great Sioux war chief, while in the custody of the U.S. Army in 1877. O'Brien's (Equinox) eighth book is a sensitive drama based on the true story of the unusual friendship between Crazy Horse and Dr. Valentine McGillicuddy, a civilian surgeon contracted to serve with the army during the Indian wars on the Great Plains. McGillicuddy relates the tale as an old man, recalling the heady days on the frontier when he was still idealistic and na ve enough to believe that his fellow Americans meant no harm to the Indians. His years as a contract surgeon, however, take him on the great campaigns to eradicate the Sioux, and McGillicuddy soon learns that not all men are noble, honorable or even trustworthy. No shrinking violet or hand-wringing moralist, he faces his greatest moral test when Crazy Horse is bayoneted in the back by a soldier, and McGillicuddy is pressured by the army to keep the famous warrior alive, because his death would spur on the Indians to renewed battle. McGillicuddy and Crazy Horse had met briefly four years earlier, in a friendly, chance encounter at a waterhole, but during the chief's final hours, the doctor and his dying patient cement their instinctive connection, with far-reaching consequences. The treachery of the army and the complicity of Crazy Horse's own allies finally convince McGillicuddy to make a startling decision. This powerful story is a thinking man's western, in which action is secondary to O'Brien's nuanced exploration of character and the tragic dimensions of a morally fraught conflict. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/01/1999
Release date: 11/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
Library Binding - 287 pages - 978-1-58547-703-6
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-618-08783-9
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