Book Review: Path of the Half Moon by Vince Bailey

After being charged with burglary and attempted arson, fifteen-year-old aspiring African American boxer Curtis Jefferson has been sent to Fort Grant, a juvenile detention area in Arizona, and all of the creepy stories and whispered warnings about the former US military outpost used by the US cavalry to eliminate the Apache a hundred years ago pale in comparison to the truth he finds there. Not only is Curtis facing racism from both inmates and guards, but he is also very aware of a presence not of this world. He quickly discovers (though he doesn’t want to admit it) that he is sentient to the atrocities of the fort’s bloody past. As the site where Pinal and Aravaipa Apaches were slaughtered in their sleep, the fort seems to be a crossroads where past and present meet. From mournful coyotes to hundreds of circling vultures, Curtis can’t escape the strange visions and events inside and outside the fort. When he attracts the unwanted attention of Harvey Huish, an inmate with  strange abilities seemingly connected to the fort, Curtis creates a powerful enemy who is bent on revenge and humiliation. 

A major theme of the novel is the power of language. It appears in numerous aspects of the plot from the Apache cursing the white man’s cunning use of his complicated and deceitful language to Randy’s appreciation of Howard Cosell’s elevated vocabulary. The frame-story technique within the novel establishes the concept of storytelling and the influence of words. Curtis’s story is narrated by Vince, Curtis’s new friend, who is relaying it to the reader at the same time Curtis is telling him. As a natural-born storyteller, Curtis is the storyteller in town, and Vince sees the story as a treasure, a jewel, that Curtis has seen fit to share with him and thus sees himself as somehow honored in receiving the tale.  Vince values the story as more than just words; it makes him greater for having heard it. Though the story is unbelievable at times, Curtis does what all great storyteller’s do–he creates a suspension of disbelief, granting the listener the right to believe, to feel that “[a]ll things are possible,”an idea repeatedly given by various characters within the story. Through the telling, Curtis finds solace in giving his  outlandish tale a literal voice. The theme appears later in the character of Will Farnsworth, Harvey’s tortured attorney. As the newest and most talented attorney in the firm that represents the Huish family, Will has been given the unachievable task of pacifying Harvey during his imprisonment at Fort Grant. Will, like many lawyers, used words in “purposed profusion,” trying unsuccessfully to befriend Harvey and later intimidate him with language. He attempts to use language as his weapon, rather than a tool for understanding, a failure which leads to his enslavement to the abhorrent Harvey.  

Another interesting aspect of the novel is the blurring of time. The sinister fort itself is one part of this theme because it seems to exist in two time periods, its tragic past and its purposeful present. Curtis repeatedly sees images of days past that cross into his present-day 1960s. In fact, his first day at the fort, he sees a hanging from the days of the Indian uprising. Later, Curtis crosses this boundary himself and crosses paths with a murdered Apache boy. The Headmaster, Roy Whitcomb, known by all as the Lieutenant, never leaves the fort but is stuck it seems within Fort Grant’s time loop, effectively becoming “the man in the maze,” the Pima tribal emblem. He is forever trapped within the maze’s limitations and obstacles, unable to make the right choices and find his way into the next plane, the gift of a better existence. The very retelling of Curtis’s story symbolizes this blurring of time as well. During the entire story, Vince’s watch remains fixed on the time when Curtis began his tale, time seemingly suspended along with his disbelief. 

Path of the Half Moon is a fascinating tale of cruelty, revenge, and redemption set against the mysterious echoes of the West. Any lover of paranormal mystery will not want to miss this one.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Comments are closed.