Monday, September 8, 2014

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: The Bully of Order by Brian Hart


Set in a logging town on the lawless Pacific coast of Washington State at the turn of the twentieth century, a spellbinding novel of fate and redemption—told with a muscular lyricism and filled with a cast of characters Shakespearean in scope—in which the lives of an ill-fated family are at the mercy of violent social and historical forces that tear them apart.

Keen to make his fortune, Jacob Ellstrom, armed with his medical kit and new wife, Nell, lands in The Harbor—a mud-filled, raucous coastal town teeming with rough trade pioneers, sawmill laborers, sailors, and prostitutes. But Jacob is not a doctor, and a botched delivery exposes his ruse, driving him onto the streets in a plunge toward alcoholism. Alone, Nell scrambles to keep herself and their young son, Duncan, safe in this dangerous world. When a tentative reunion between the couple—in the company of Duncan and Jacob’s malicious brother, Matius—results in tragedy, Jacob must flee town to elude being charged with murder.

Years later, the wild and reckless Duncan seems to be yet another of The Harbor’s hoodlums. His only salvation is his overwhelming love for Teresa Boyerton, the daughter of the town’s largest mill owner. But disaster will befall the lovers with heartbreaking consequences.

And across town, Bellhouse, a union boss and criminal rabble-rouser, sits at the helm of The Harbor’s seedy underbelly, perpetuating a cycle of greed and violence. His thug Tartan directs his pack of thieves, pimps, and murderers, and conceals an incendiary secret involving Duncan’s mother. As time passes, a string of calamitous events sends these characters hurtling towards each other in an epic collision that will shake the town to its core.

Hardcover, 400 pages
Expected publication: September 2nd 2014 by Harper
ISBN 0062297740 (ISBN13: 9780062297747)

About the Author 

A native of Idaho, Brian Hart won the Keene Prize for Literature from the University of Texas at Austin and received an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers there. He is the author of the novel Then Came the Evening. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and young daughter.

Check out the author's website

My Thoughts
After the incident at the storehouse, Chief Manager Baranov called the men to the beachhead.
This story takes place on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. Below is a picture of the Chehalis River from 1912, which is about  ten years after the climax of this story.
Chehalis River at Aberdeen, Washington, apparently looking northwards.(1912) Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website at

This book follows the lives of the Ellstrom family in a logging town on the rough and tumble Olympic Peninsula  in Washington State during the late 1800s (it starts around 1886 and runs until about 1902). Starting with "Doctor" Jacob Ellstrom and his wife Nell and their toddler Duncan, just before Jacob is exposed as a fraud. Once exposed, he abandons his family and things just go downhill from there.

The story later picks up when Duncan is older and has grown into a troubled young man, not having anyone to properly guide him, and he finds himself in quite a bit of trouble.

There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and I actually wound up being okay with that (sometimes I can find myself lost). The problem I had was the rambling though processes of most of the characters. I felt like I was dealing with a room full of ADD riddled characters, with their thoughts always straying this way and that. I felt like yelling, "Please, just focus!" It really made it hard for me to maintain my own focus at times.

The author is actually a very good writer, but as with Cormac McCarthy, I find his writing somewhat stilted and scattered, and it really took some getting used to. I wound up having a lot of respect for the author's talent, even while I found myself sometimes skimming over paragraphs of text that were too laborious for me to read.

I had to chuckle when I read about Bernice Travois, the town midwife, whose home was painted to the height of a man, because they didn’t have a ladder, as I heard the same story about my Mom’s childhood home. When we were visiting Michigan, she pointed out a home she had lived in as a kid and told me that once her Dad (my Grandpa) had told the boys to go out and paint the house. The boys all proceeded to paint the house as high as they could reach-- and no more was ever done!

The characters in the book would make very insightful statements that kept me going through the story, seeking out the next gem of wisdom.

Half the bones in your body are in your hands and feet. If nothing else, that should tell a person to stand and hang on.
Winter makes a person pick sides.
All the rooms of the world are the same once the door is shut.
If you're wondering about the origin of the title of the book, it was shared in the very beginning, via the journal of Timofei Osipovich Tarakanov of 1808:
I stopped what I was doing and asked what was so amusing and the old man surprised me and replied in English, what he called the Boston tongue, that I needed to beware of the bully of order… The old hunter carried forth in his own language and soon he’d referenced the sea and the land, hunter and prey, husband and wife, father and son, mother and child, even slave and master...
One thing I missed was a map of the area. I used to live in Washington, and looked out at the Olympic Mountains every day, but I had a hard time envisioning in my head the location. I wanted to see the Hoaquim and Chehalis and Hoh, although there is a very good description of the area right at the beginning, and the book's cover does have an old photo of the harbor.

I would like to thank TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. Check out the website for the full tour schedule:

Tuesday, September 2nd: M. Denise C.
Wednesday, September 3rd: missris
Thursday, September 4th: Reading Reality
Monday, September 8th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, September 18th: Mom in Love With Fiction
Friday, September 19th: Broken Teepee
Monday, September 22nd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Friday, September 26th: Sun Mountain Reviews
Thursday, October 2nd: Jo-Jo Love to Read!
Tuesday, October 7th: Book Addiction
TBD: Book Loving Hippo

My final word: This is really a story about failure. Everyone fails everyone else, and themselves most of all. Some eventually realize their failures, and some just don’t care.This story is not for the faint of heart, as it is very crass and abrasive, and many will find the language and certain situations offensive, but it is also a fairly realistic portrayal of life in the newly settled northwest. The story is not sensitive and sentimental. It is gritty and unromantic and provocative. Interesting characters abound. The writing sometimes made me work a little harder than I like (I generally prefer literary fiction that is a rambling stroll through a flowery meadow rather than a taxing and arduous climb through mud and muck), but this story is well done. This author knows what he's doing, and he has crafted an interesting story with colorful characters to make all of the hard work worthwhile.

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble

My Rating: B+


I received a copy of this book to review through the publisher and TLC Book Tours, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof, and quotes could differ from the final release.

1 comment:

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Oh that is hilarious about the painted walls - what a fun story to tell!

Thanks for being a part of the tour.