Review: Peace in the Valley, by John Eric Vining

May 4, 2018 • Frank Frisson

FF’s Star Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

               Peace in the Valley: A Quest for Redemption in the Old West is a project rewritten and readied to be published by John Eric Vining. The original manuscript is authored by Robert E. Vining (1946 – 2006) who wrote under the pen name Raymond Refoen. I have read and reviewed books by Vining before and I’ve become a great fan.

               Confederate Captain Mark Gamble – a legendary Rebel sharpshooter – has a close encounter with death during a battle with Union soldiers in Chattanooga, Tennessee in the month of November, 1863. Tended to in a Union hospital, he met Ruth Taylor, a nurse in the Union Army. Mark hated the Union with a passion, but despite his feelings toward the enemy side, he found himself attracted to Ruth. Ruth was a Christian woman who wanted to heal the tormented soul that she saw in Mark. She thought Mark about her faith and the two eventually married. Ruth knew she had a calling to teach Native Americans about her faith. Mark knew that he had to help the woman he loved do it.

               The book begins in Washington, D.C., in November of 1999. Here we meet an elderly white woman named Eleanor Cress who is busy taking part in a Native American protest in front of the White House. Eager for a story to write, freelance journalist Wilma Fleming spots Eleanor. Eleanor reveals to Wilma that it’s because of her grandparents that she’s at the protest. The two make their way to a Starbucks and it is there that the tale begins with a war-torn Chattanooga, Tennessee in November of 1863 as the starting point.

               “It don’t take no Socrates or Plato, you know, to figure out that you’re after Nurse Taylor’s heart – but you’ve been going about it bass-ackwards.” This advice comes from a friend Mark meets while recovering inside the Union hospital. Trying a different tactic, Mark eventually gets it right. Living a married life with Ruth inside a Quaker community at first, Mark makes a lot of comparisons between his own faith and that of the Quakers (otherwise known as the Society of Friends). Revealing himself to be a liberal minded man, he thinks of his own faith as shallow whereas Ruth and the Quakers are true believers. It’s an absolute delight to see Mark actually choose the route of nonviolence in a physical fight with one Jake Ross: Jake is introduced as a man who harbors no love for a man who walks with an Indian, something Mark does a few years after he first met Ruth. After a spellbinding boxing match, we see these two enemies become good friends.

               Traversing a setting consisting of whitewashed two-story barracks and several rows of gray army tents, Ruth is introduced as an affectionate and sociable Yankee Quaker from Pennsylvania and revealed to be best friends with a Southern Methodist woman named Sarah Brecklin. Ruth’s choice of words – containing “thou’s” and “thee’s” galore – and her physical description makes her an extraordinary character to imagine. A sight to see if someone like her could be walking among us now. Looking tough might not be her strong suit, but I could see the emollient effect she was having on her tough-skinned husband.

               “Please take my advice. You’ve got to change your pacifist ways. They don’t work in the West.” For Mark and Ruth, becoming Indian agents means traversing the frontier. Mark, being the one who actually knows from experience how dangerous the frontier can be, tries his utmost not to revert back to his quondam self. Spiritual healing is one of Marks greatest wants. He wants to heal, but even though he’s taken up Ruth’s faith, he finds it difficult. Here, that familiar question of what religion is the correct one is asked. “How do we know for sure that our Light and their Spirit aren’t one and the same?”

               Sometimes, absolutely minor characters get to tell fascinating stories about something that happened in the past and it was always a joy to imagine myself as the characters listening to these stories being told. Readers get to experience what it’s like being a civil war soldier, a part of a Quaker community, a welcomed guest of a Native American tribe, and so much more. The spirit of the Indian warrior is truly defined, demanding each ounce of the readers’ respect. The warriors that are sketched in the last chapters are all fearless fighters. Assured by a vision of victory, these warriors are fueled and ready to take on their stronger foes. It is Mark who must come up with a solution since he fears that this last coming war will mean the destruction of the Indians.
When Mark tries on a used Northern uniform for the first time, his thoughts and feelings about it are strangely not revealed. This occurs before he and Ruth gets married, so his newfound faith and thinking is still a new thing at this point and in that scene I felt that there was room for at least one execrable thought. Ruth, on her part, is too perfect for my liking. Absolutely faithful, either Refoen or Vining could’ve left readers a surprise, no matter how small. Christians are people and as such, one would expect them to slip.

               Giving an answer to the question of whether some people cannot be religiously redeemed, I would describe this book as nothing less than a historical fiction phenomenon, something I would recommend to many friends confident that they would all enjoy it. So many mind-bending questions are brought fourth. Who is worthy and unworthy of redemption? Who is correct between the realists and the faithful? Why must blood be shed for plainly silly reasons?

               There are so many different and interesting dimensions added to this novel. And still, nagging at the back of one’s mind is whether the authors responsible for this amazing story still have a couple of page-turning twists and turns in store as one arrives at the final somber and worrisome chapters. They do.

Kindle Edition:
Publisher: Page Publishing, Inc
Date Published: October 2, 2017
Genre: Western
Pages: 393

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