Book Review: ‘Scarred’ by Michael Kenneth Smith
Author and master storyteller Michael Kenneth Smith trained as a mechanical engineer, owned and operated a successful auto parts business, and after twenty years, retired to fish, golf, cook, playing bridge, and become an oenophile (a lover or connoisseur of wine), socialized, and even edited a local newspaper – his introduction to the written word. He now adds publishing novels to his resume – his first novel being the highly regarded HOME AGAIN – and now he offers SCARRED.
When writing an historical novel it is wise to open the spectrum of the coming stories background with a back story – a Prologue in Michael’s case – which opens in Virginia 1863 – ‘Gray early morning light seeped through the tall sycamores next to the riverbank. The hollow sound of a distant woodpecker broke the silence. The scope of a rifle followed the Confederate sharpshooter as he climbed a tree to his hidden platform. The scope’s spider lines centered on the man’s head and Zach Harkin squeezed the trigger. Blood and bone splattered against the tree as the gunshot echoed through the forest. Zach climbed the tree and stared at the dead man whose lower jaw had been blown away. This same sharpshooter had shot his best friend the day before. His upper torso leaned against the tree in a sitting position, both legs splayed out in front of him. His eyes were still open, and Zach felt as if they were looking directly at him with a shocked expression. He searched and found the man’s logbook. As he flipped through, he found the last entry from the day before: ‘Shot a man on the other side of the river. He was on picket duty. Poor bastard. Two more days and I’m on two-week leave to go home. Seems like an eternity since I’ve seen her.’ Then a small picture fell from the pages. Zach stared at the image of the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He closed the book, slid it into his pocket and climbed down the tree. His thirst for revenge had turned to guilt and the need for redemption.’
Michael jumps to Tennessee 1908 where Zach is asked to write a series of articles about the Civil War, and specifically about his exploits at Shiloh as a sharpshooter. This is a fundamentally sound manner to write a story of recall and Michael pulls it off with style. As the synopsis phrases, ‘After fatally shooting the Confederate sharpshooter who killed his best friend, Zach Harkin’s sense of revenge changes to deep remorse when he views the dead man’s diary and photo. Haunted, suffering from post traumatic stress, and unable to serve, he is mustered out of service. With scant information, he begins an epic journey to search for the dead man’s family. He is captured, imprisoned, tortured, and thoroughly tested as a human being, but after escaping, he never expects to find love in the war ravaged South.’
Powerful writing from an experienced hand. Stories such as SCARRED tell us more about both our history and about the ravages of war than the usual novel. We can only hope Michael continues to share.
Editor’s note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB‘s free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles.