Soul Catcher by Michael White
From the moment you meet Augustus Cain as he wakens with a hangover from a night of debauchery and gambling, you are intrigued. Men storm his room and demand payment for a gambling debt—which sets the storyline with non-stop action as Cain must hunt and capture two runaway slaves as payment for what he owes. In addition to the quick pace of the plot, there’s an edge to this flawed character—a basic goodness and intelligence that somehow manages to have you rooting for him even as you are disappointed by his weaknesses. Cain employs humor and sarcasm, which stem as much from his own inward struggle as what he experiences from the mean and shady characters who surround him: “He was outnumbered now, they were armed and he wasn’t, and he was still feeling the immobilizing effects of a sour-mash-and-laudanum hangover. Besides, he was wearing only one boot. He was more than a fair street fighter, but he didn’t like to engage in fisticuffs without his boots on, which limited his capabilities…” Cain is a lost soul who has given up on himself years ago, and despite knowing the difference between right and wrong, he appears resigned to his own character weakness in failing to choose the noble path. The title refers to his own lost soul as well as being the term used to describe bounty hunters who went after runaway slaves for profit. I liked how the author captures the 1850s from both the North and South perspective as Cain travels in hot pursuit of the runaways. I also liked how he tries to help us understand, through Cain’s remembrances of his upbringing and his father, how respectable, God-fearing Southerners explained away the evil of slavery. The fact that the key slave Cain is meant to capture is a smart, spirited and beautiful young woman who would rather die than go back to slavery also appealed to me, adding that romance and lust interlude between the horses, fighting, and guns. The plot, however, becomes too far fetched, and the more I read, the more difficulty I had suspending my disbelief. Of course, I was also unable to stop reading because I needed to know how it ended. So overall, I’d have to say it is worth a jaunt into this historic adventure.