Harper is a journalist in Columbia, South Carolina, who "writes the criminal news and sporting columns for a small daily". So says Mr. Gray, security chief, to the president of the United States, Chester A. Arthur, in the tale "The Kornegaut Letter", one of a series of enjoyable short stories involving the journalist. Harper, born in 1845, fought in the Civil War,
and was captured in 1864 and held in the Ganderson and Slidell camps. He was released in '65 into the custody of relations in Scotland until the end of the conflict, at which time he returned to the United States to work as a journalist.
His new profession provides him with wonderful (to read) adventures, some of which are life-threatening. We first meet Harper in the story, "The Chalk Town Train" when a friend of his, a conductor named "Ox" Moore confronts a contentious passenger, disarms him and throws him (literally) off his train. It is minutes later when he learns that the young man he threw off was none other than Jeremiah Bodie, a known and feared killer. Bodie, Ox knows, will be back, to exact
revenge for his treatment.
Thus begins a nice western tale of inevitable showdown. The railroad that Ox works for wants no adverse publicity and no trouble, and suspends Ox without pay. Ox meets Harper
and requests the reporter's help, and together the two seek to keep Ox alive and make sure the "scar-faced young man with the mustache" never gets a chance to achieve revenge.
Each tale is wonderfully titled - "The Swindlers Circle," "The Convicts of the Congaree," "The Tavern Horror," etc.
- and each is as wonderfully written, true page-turners all. If there's any complaint at all it's that some of the tales deserve to be longer. Certainly the aforementioned "The Kornegaut Letter" contains substantial enough plot to provide for a good novella or complete novel. I've read longer books with less plot behind them. If these tales were made longer, it would also allow the author to put more twists and turns into them as well.
Some tales allow the reporter to display a certain Holmesian deductive ability
to solve mysteries, while others simply feature him in the middle of the action,
as in "The Chalk Town Train."
Author Daniel Elton Harmon writes with a striking sense of historical accuracy,
capturing the period in the Southern United States following the Civil War very
well (or so it seemed to me, an admitted non-expert in American history).
If one is looking for good casual summer reading, a book to take along to read while traveling, or a book to relax with while sunning at the beach, then one could do no better than to purchase The Chalk Town Train. It provides easy, enjoyable entertainment.