Author: Richard Satterlie, Ph.D
The following review of the ARC copy was contributed by: NORM GOLDMAN: Editor of Bookpleasures.com https://autoankaufuri.ch
The world of Richard Satterlie’s Phoenix is quite gripping and poignant in its rendering, as it narrates the tale of a seventeen year old Minnesota farm boy who in the year 1876 leaves home against his father’s wishes in order to earn enough money to pursue a college education.
Lars Olafson’s parting and wounding words to his son Sievert were “if you go, you’re not part of this family.” However, this does not deter Sievert from leaving his family, as well as his girlfriend Anna and hopping on a stagecoach that ultimately delivers him to the wilds of the Arizona Territory.
During his long and tiresome ride to Arizona, Sievert has the good fortune to meet up with Ben Ross, who introduces him to John William (Jack) Swilling. (It is to be noted that Swilling was in fact a real character, who is sometimes referred to as the “Father of Phoenix.” The Swilling Irrigating and Canal Company connected the ancient Hohokam canals to the Salt River in the late 1860’s and reopened the Phoenix Valley to agriculture.) After their brief encounter, Sievert takes up Swilling’s offer of employment to work on the latter’s farm for five dollars a week including room and board until something better comes along. Eventually, Sievert moves into the Swilling household and Jack becomes his mentor and adopted father, as he tags along with him on most of his out-of-town business trips. Sievert never forgets his family and continues to write a weekly letter to them and his girlfriend Anna however, he is puzzled as to why he never receives any replies to his letters.
One day, while Swilling and Sievert are on a business trip, Swilling offers Sievert the opportunity to invest in the Montgomery Mine. He tells Sievert that for one hundred dollars he can own a one third share, the other two shares would be owned by Swilling and his wife Trinidad. Apparently, the mine has great potential that would make all three investors quite rich. On their way back to Phoenix, Swilling shows Sievert a piece of land not far from the mine that he is contemplating purchasing and where he is plans to build a new home, moving his family from Phoenix.
Sievert’s opportunity to earn a more gainful employment eventually occurs when Swilling informs him that the Tip Top Mine is in need of a good bookkeeper. Apparently, the previous bookkeeper was alleged to have misrepresented the accounting books and pocketing some of the profits. As this was the Wild West, the principle of due process of law was ignored and the poor fellow was strung up on a tree without having the benefit of a fair trial. This was to serve as a lesson and reminder to anyone contemplating cheating the individuals who owned the mine. After pondering over the offer made to him by the principals of the Tip Top Mine, Sievert decides to take up the offer and move to Gillett, Arizona, where the mine is situated and which is not too far from Swilling’s new home.
It is while working at the mine that Sievert’s becomes a spectator into the world of some unscrupulous, unethical and illegal activities and where he is reminded of what Swilling had taught him concerning doing business in this part of the world-either you do it to them or they’ll do it to you. However, even after having been personally bit as a result of some of these activities, he faces an ethical and moral dilemma, as this is certainly not the way he had been brought up by his parents. Nonetheless, he realizes that Swilling was right about the best way to survive the rough and tumble Arizona life, although he still felt the need to resist as long as possible and to keep his conscience in tact.
This riveting fast-moving tale is skillfully crafted as Satterlie throughout the novel cautiously but almost unnoticeably sets out the signposts of his story. In each unpredicted turn of events the reader realizes that it is in reality the outcome of something set in motion earlier. His dialogue sounds right and the depiction of many of the characters that lived in this neck of the woods in the late 1800s is right on the mark. Although, this is Satterlie’s first attempt at fiction, he shows considerable maturity in telling a story in a fresh and engaging way. I also found the intertwining into the story of the character of Jack Swilling, who probably put the city of Phoenix on the map, extremely fascinating. Very rarely does a story keep me awake at night- this one accomplished this feat, as I was curious to know how it would all end. This novel definitely deserves a sequel.
Norm Goldman is editor of the book reviewing and author interviewing site http://www.bookpleasures.com and the travel site [http://www.sketchandtravel.com]
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