Gerry B's Book Reviews

Certainty by Victor Bevine

A superbly written fiction wrapped around an historical event.



Click on the cover to purchase.

Click on the cover to purchase.

When you’re fighting an injustice, can it be wrong to do what’s right?

Inspired by the scandalous true story that shocked a nation at the close of WWI.

With America’s entry into World War I, the population of Newport, Rhode Island, seems to double overnight as twenty-five thousand rowdy recruits descend on the Naval Training Station. Drinking, prostitution, and other depravities follow the sailors, transforming the upscale town into what many residents—including young lawyer William Bartlett, whose genteel family has lived in Newport for generations—consider to be a moral cesspool.

When sailors accuse a beloved local clergyman of sexual impropriety, William feels compelled to fight back. He agrees to defend the minister against the shocking allegations, in the face of dire personal and professional consequences. But when the trial grows increasingly sensational, and when outrageous revelations echo all the way from Newport to the federal government, William must confront more than just the truth—he must confront the very nature of good and evil.

Certainty recalls a war-torn era when the line between right and wrong became dangerously blurred.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Certainty, by Victor Bevine [Lake Union Publishing, October 21, 2014] is at once a war story, a discourse on morals and morality, and a courtroom drama rolled into one beautifully written novel.

It is based on the “Newport Navy Vice Scandal of 1919,” a 20th-century witch hunt that made headlines for its use of ‘sexual moles’ to identify and root out practicing homosexuals: i.e. Sailors would either be recruited or coerced into participating informants to entrap friends, colleagues, and civilians in homosexual activity.

Personally, I love this type of fiction that is wrapped around an actual event. Well done, it can add flesh and blood to the characters, as well as speculative dimensions not allowed in formal biographies.

In this regard, Bevine has done a masterful job of character development, from the Reverent Samuel Neal Kent to attorney William Bartlett, so that the mindset of both are readily understandable. Likewise, the mindset of the times has, I think, been properly represented.

Another note to his credit is that Bevine never attempts to moralize. Rather, he is content to tell the story as it is, and let the reader add his/her moral adjudication.

Having found nothing but plusses on the side of Certainty, I award it a full five bees on the bee’s scale. A superb read.


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January 12, 2015 Posted by | Fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay military, M/M love and adventure, Semi-biographical | Leave a comment

Trails Plowed Under by Charles M. Russell

I am adding a new, all-time favourite to my list…




trails plowed under - cover twoPublisher’s blurb: Excerpts from Introduction: I have many friends among cowmen and cowpunchers. I have always been what is called a good mixer I had friends when I had nothing else. My friends were not always within the law, but I haven’t said how law-abiding I was myself. I haven’t been too bad nor too good to get along with. Life has never been too serious with me I lived to play and I’m playing yet. Laughs and good judgment have saved me many a black eye, but I don’t laugh at other’s tears. I was a wild young man, but age has made me gentle. I drank, but never alone, and when I drank it was no secret. I am still friendly with drinking men…


Review by Gerry Burnie

Although I have personally reviewed over two hundred fiction and non-fiction books, I admit I have my favourites. Blazing the Old Cattle Trail by Canadian Grant MacEwan; We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a cowpuncher  by E.C. “Teddy Blue” Abbott and Helena Huntington Smith; and Klondike Cattle Drive by Norman Lee are three that I can think of off-hand, but now I can add another: Trails Plowed Under by Charles Marion Russell [Bison Books, July 28, 1996.] with forward by Will Rogers.

'The West that's passed' "When the land belonged to God"

‘The West that’s passed’
“When the land belonged to God”

Most people know Charles Russell as an internationally acclaimed artist, illustrator and painter of “The West that’s passed,” (his own words), but fewer know that he was a gifted writer of tall tales as well. “Betwine the pen and the brush there is little diffornce but I belive the man that makes word pictures is the greater.” ~ Charles M. Russell letter to Ralph S. Kendall, November 26, 1919.

Like most great writers, Russell knew his material first-hand. He was born March 19, 1864, in St. Louis, Missouri, on the edge of the burgeoning western frontier. As a boy, he crafted his own expectations of the American West by filling his schoolbooks with drawings of cowboys and Indians. Shortly before turning 16, he arrived in Montana, where he spent eleven years working various ranching jobs. He sketched in his free time and soon gained a local reputation as an artist. His firsthand experience as a ranch hand.

trails plowed under - cm russell portraitCharlie Russell became the personification of the West itself. He wanted little to do with the present and nothing to do with the future, and chose to celebrate and romanticize only the traditions and virtues of the West as he envisioned it. He wanted it known that he had taken part in the Old West, and was a better man for it. Even as an internationally-known western artist, Russell cherished—far more than his skills—his friendships and his place as a peer among common people.

Although he produced over 4,000 works of art and 27 books to internation acclaim, with fame went modesty. Charles Russell often said that God had given him his talent, that nature provided the schooling, and that therefore he had no cause to boast about the results. The talent was undeniable. He could model figures out of beeswax or clay without looking at his hands. From memory, he could paint men and horses he had known decades before, in action and with features which old-timers could identify, And he could accurately record in writing the speech patterns of wranglers, nighthawks, and rawhides long since vanished.

Russell was not so good a writer as he was a painter, illustrator, or sculptor. But that undeniable fact should blind no one to the rich excellences of his short stories, semiautobiographical anecdotes, and essays. At their best, they have the twang and tang of Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and Will Rogers. The main virtues of Russell’s writings are the same as those which distinguish his best art work: authenticity, detail, suspense, and humor.

But rather than try to explain the rustic charm of his stories, here is an example from Trails Plowed Under:

Gift Horse

trails plowed under - 'gift horse'Charley Furiman tells me about a hoss he owns and if you’re able to stay on him he’ll take you to the end of the trail. The gent Charley got him from says he’s, “Gentle. He’s a pet.” (This man hates to part with him.) “He’s a lady’s hoss. You can catch him anywhere with a biscuit.

“Next day Charley finds out he’s a lady’s hoss, all right, but he don’t like men. Furiman ain’t a mile from his corral when he slips the pack. Charley crawls him again kinder careful and rides him sixty miles an’ he don’t turn a hair. Next day he saddles him he acts like he’s harmless but he’s looking for something. He’s out about ten mile. Charley notices he travels with one ear down. This ain’t a good sign, but Charley gets careless and about noon he comes to a dry creek bed where there’s lots of boulders. That’s what this cayuse is looking for ’cause right in the middle of the boulder-strewn flat is where he breaks in two and unloads. Charley tells me, “I don’t miss none of them boulders an’ where I light there’s nothing gives but different parts of me. For a while I wonder where I’m at and when things do clear up it comes to me right quick. I forgot to bring the biscuits. How am I going to catch him? If I had a Winchester, I’d catch him just over the eye.

“To make a long story short, I followed him back to the ranch afoot. Walking ain’t my strong holt an’ these boulder bumps don’t help me none. Next morning after a good night’s sleep, I feel better. Going out to the corral, I offer this cayuse a biscuit, thinkin’ I’ll start off friendly. He strikes at me and knocks my hat off. My pardner tries to square it by telling me I ain’t got the right kind. ‘That’s a lady’s hoss,’ says he, ‘and being a pet, he wants them little lady’s biscuits; it’s enough to make him sore, handing him them sour doughs.’

“While I’m getting my hat, I happen to think of a friend of mine that’s got married and I ain’t give him no wedding present. This friend of mine is a bronk rider named Con Price. So while my heart’s good, I saddle a gentle hoss and lead this man-hater over and presents him to Price with my best wishes. “I don’t meet Con till next fall on the beef roundup. He ain’t too friendly. Next morning when we’re roping hosses, he steps up to me and says, kinder low, holdin’ out his hand to shake, ‘Charley, I’m letting bygones be bygones, but if I get married again anywhere in your neighborhood, don’t give me no wedding presents. If you do you’ll get lots of flowers.”

For anyone who enjoys Western yarns, told be someone who experienced the West first hand, and can spin a yarn the way it was told, this collection is for you. Five bees.


Some examples of Charlie Russell’s Paintings that appeal to me:

"When Law Dulls The Edge of Chance"

“When Law Dulls The Edge of Chance”

"Meats Not Meat Til It's In The Pan"

“Meats Not Meat Til It’s In The Pan”

"Bronc to Breakfast"

“Bronc to Breakfast”

"Wild Horse Hunters"

“Wild Horse Hunters”


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It is a collection of people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest post:  Molly Lamb-Bobak, CM, ONB: Canada’s first Official Woman War Artist.


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Notice to all those who have requested a book reviewThank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer.

Thanks again!

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May 19, 2014 Posted by | Charles Marion Russell, Real Western Tales, Semi-biographical, Western Vernacular | Leave a comment


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