cover image Louisiana Purchase

Louisiana Purchase

A. E. Hotchner. Carroll & Graf Publishers, $24 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-7867-0309-8

Densely plotted adventure overwhelms characterization in this historical novel from Hotchner (Papa Hemingway and King of the Hill). The characters tend to preach rather than speak, and extensive research reveals itself in undigested lists, but the details themselves hold interest. When King Louis XV of France, jealous of accomplished young nobleman Guy Laroule, decrees that he must leave the court of Versailles for the Louisiana Territory, Laroule considers it a ""death sentence."" Having enjoyed most of his ""charmed and protected"" years at the hedonistic palace, he can't imagine life anywhere else After a miserable five-month voyage across a storm-tossed Atlantic, he arrives in New Orleans in 1752 to find his new home and fields burned to the ground, the slaves gone and the former owners killed in a Chickasaw massacre. Laroule reestablishes himself, but then, thanks to a vengeful neighbor, loses the home he's come to share with a wife and stepson. Through the intervention of the beautiful Madame du Barry, Laroule obtains exclusive rights as fur trader for the territory and goes on to found the city of Saint Louis, then part of the Louisiana Territory. Years later, Laroule, now an American in spirit and chafing under the colonial restrictions of Spain and France, plants a suggestion in the ear of President Jefferson: buy the whole territory. Hotchner writes some exciting scenes, especially that of a horrifying Indian attack followed by an earthquake, but the people and events, both historical and fictional, are described with an evenhandedness that robs the narrative of energy. Author tour. (July) FYI: Hotchner is Paul Newman's partner in Newman's Own and the charity that receives its profits.