If you read the first book in the Quinn Saga, “By Accident of Birth,” by Korean War vet and Gulfport novelist Thomas E. Simmons you’ll want to pick up where Simmons left off in this stand-alone sequel, “The Last Quinn Standing.”
Book One introduced Bethany Quinn, a young Vicksburger impregnated during the Civil War by a bullet that first passed through a Confederate Soldier.
Her brother Jonathan served as captain of the raider CSS Alabama during the Civil War, and then in the Cuban revolution against Spain. His putative son, Ansel Quinn, is the protagonist here, and his adventures during World War I are as exciting as you would expect any Quinn to enjoy.
Ansel learns of Bethany’s demise as passenger on the Lusitania, an ocean liner sunk by a German U-Boat, and upon finding her diary, learns the history of his extraordinary aunt, who, he now discovers, was his mother.
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A soldier in France observing the trench warfare between the Allies and Germany, Ansel seeks out the man who was his real father, now a French General involved in the war. Before long the young Quinn learns the truth about the “gristmill” for doomed young men that is World War I, and is ordered back to America to report on what he has observed, not knowing if his report will induce his country to avoid the war or dive right in it.
On the transatlantic voyage he meets the exceptional woman, Isabel, with whom he falls in love and marries at Shamrock, his family’s old Vicksburg plantation. Then it’s back to France and a world gone mad and a war that may or may not leave him as the last Quinn standing.
What is most fascinating about this and all of Simmons’ books of historical fiction is his unusual approach to his craft. First, he blends historical characters with fictional ones in a way to enliven his story. During a battle in France, Ansel happens upon the composer Maurice Ravel, who, when told he is a treasure out of place on the battlefield, says, “I believe all of France’s treasure is at risk here … My music cannot stop the [enemy], but the artillery shells I carry can.”
More significantly, Simmons takes his time explaining everything that his protagonist encounters, even at times using brief authorial intrusion to explain, for instance, the fate of the ship Ansel boards in France for home. It is, however, the author’s description of such matters as European trench warfare, machine guns, how they function and why Germany got more of them before the war, and life on a Mississippi plantation before, during and after the Civil War.
These are priceless, painstakingly researched gems for the history lover in us all, delivered not as a boring high school lecture, but in a memorable dramatic context. The reader feels stranded on the battlefield with Ansel and thousands of young bodies riddled with machine gun bullets, or enjoys attending a soiree on the front gallery of a “dog trot” mansion with 14-foot tall ceilings and huge pot rack dangling overhead in the kitchen. I almost felt Quinn’s frustration about not being able to see through the portholes of transatlantic-traveling ships, as they were blacked out to deny targets to ever present U-Boats.
Not to dispute Ravel, but the real treasure here is Simmons’ storytelling ability that bends history with romance in a manner that should appeal to readers of every conceivable stripe.
The Last Quinn Standing
By Thomas E. Simmons
TouchPoint Press (January 30, 2017)