Five-Star Review for Lost Side Of An Orphan’s Moon
August 15, 2020
The Novel “is saturated with a “film noir” consciousness that takes you by the hand and leads you into the lives of richly developed characters.”
An oil boom has broken the back of the Great Depression. A small East Texas town is awash with new names and new faces, and no one knows whose eyes belong to the man who carried a lovely fancy dancer from the ballroom of a Sporting House into the darkness of a rainy night and killed her.
Was it a crime of passion? Did she reject him?
Was it someone from her past?
Or was he as unfamiliar as the next roustabout or drifter walking the streets?
A preacher has set up the tent for his traveling Love and Salvation Show on the road beside the courthouse. A strange hunchback with a voice of doom casts an uneasy shadow across the town. Where did he come from? Nobody knows.
Men are spending their hard-earned money with dime-a-dance girls, looking for love, a wife, or something more sinister. Everyone has a secret. Whose secret sent the lovely Louise Fontaine to a muddy grave?
And who is the small boy who stepped off the train with a paper note attached to his coat that said: My name is Ollie Porter. My daddy is Oliver Porter. He works in the oilfields. Does anyone know where he is? Is the boy connected to the fancy dancer or, perhaps, the killer? Or is he just a waif in search of a home?
Ashland is a town without law. It is threatening to explode from the mass of humanity crowding into the oilfield. Is the death of the fancy dancer only the first? And can Doc, the charming and lovable con man, and Eudora, the beautiful widow, catch a killer before they find out who’s the next to die?
Review by Ronald E. Yates, author of the three-book Billy Battles saga:
When I began reading Caleb Pirtle III’s Lost Side of an Orphan’s Moon, the third book in the author’s Boom Town Saga, I immediately recognized the East Texas town of Ashland in which the novel is set. No, I have never been there, and I don’t even know if Ashland, Texas exists.
But small towns in the Midwest all seem to exude the same mood and texture—especially ones in depression-era rural America.
That was the first thing that impressed me about Pirtle’s prose. The descriptions of people and places are inspired and vivid. Ashland could have been the small town in Northeast Kansas where I grew up, and the people and places in the town could have been in Greenleaf, Kansas, population 650.
Good writers compel readers to “see” the scenes they are creating. The words they use are carefully crafted to create pictures in the reader’s mind. Good writers enable readers to employ all relevant senses when they create a scene. I can go on and on here about the basic literary rule that says writers must “show” and not “tell.”
Instead, I’ll let the author himself demonstrate what I am talking about. Here is a scene from Chapter 22 of the book in which the newly appointed African-American constable of Ashland named Waskom Brown, who is investigating the murder of a young “taxi dancer,” enters the Dinner Bell café.
“Waskom left the crime scene, turned his face into the wind, and climbed the hill toward the Dinner Bell. The cold followed him inside. The rain stopped at the door.
“He glanced around the café. Faces were staring down into empty plates, sopped clean by chunks of day-old biscuits. Few were talking, and it sounded as if they had little to talk about when they did, nothing more than simple eulogies to the weather, their jobs, the sonuvabitches who hired them, the sonuvabitches who fired them, how much money they were making, and how many hours they were working to earn it, how much they were worth, and the shame and disgrace of remaining poor while laboring eighteen hours a day and longer on the weekends to make other sonuvabitches rich. Waskom figured they were talking about him and Doc. Nobody liked their jobs. Nobody dared quit. The bread was stale, the meat tough, the potatoes cold, the coffee as watered down as the barrow ditch where Louise Fontaine fell, but, thank God, they could afford to eat, and they would not forget the days when they couldn’t.”
I have spent hours and hours in small-town cafes like that. I can almost “hear” the despondent, melancholic grumbling; “smell” the chicken fried steak, potatoes, coffee, and cigarette smoke; “see” the diners sopping up the gravy with dried biscuits from greasy white plates; and “feel” the desolate, cheerless ambiance.
The Lost Side of an Orphan’s Moon is saturated with a “film noir” consciousness that takes you by the hand and leads you into the lives of richly developed characters such as Eudora Durant, publisher of the Ashland Reporter-Times newspaper; Doc Bannister, a con-man, card sharp, and wheeler-dealer; Ollie Porter, a 12-year-old boy who is looking for his father; and Waskom Brown, a scammer, and schemer with a checkered past.
As I was reading Lost Side of an Orphan’s Moon, I kept thinking about the advice Chicago author Nelson Algren once gave in his depression-era novel, A Walk on the Wild Side:
“Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.”
Somehow Algren’s counsel seemed apropos for this book.
Pirtle has deftly recreated the depression-era oil fields and boomtowns of East Texas, with their clammy black sludge, stagnant oleaginous stench, and assemblages of roughnecks, drillers, and speculators.
After reading a few pages of Pirtle’s book, I had the odd urge to wipe my shoes on something so that I wouldn’t dirty up the carpet.
At its heart, this is a murder mystery about a young woman named Louise Fontaine, who is found dead in a ditch on the outskirts of Ashland with a single bullet hole in her neck. Who could have done such a thing—even to a taxi-dancer who earned her living at 10 cents a dance and perhaps a few dollars more for dancing horizontally at Maizie Thompson’s Sporting House?
You’ll get no spoiler alert from me. If you want to know whodunnit, you’ll have to pick up the book yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
Please click HERE to find Lost Side Of An Orphan’s Moon on Amazon.