Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on August 3, 1975 · Page 76
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 76

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 3, 1975
Page 76
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Page 76 article text (OCR)

1 r t ^ .''.''. DRUMBEAT M. · -.-i f.T v '.'. .'/ ' ' » ' ' V ' ' SPEAKING OF BOOKS Tfie Stubborn Dutchman By John Scboolfield Col. Frederick Visscher was not one of the heroes of the American Revolution. He was just a stubborn Dutchman who survived one of the most one-sided fights of the war, a struggle in which he was tomahawked, scalped, and left for dead in a burning building with his neck slashed and his throat cut. Frederick and his wife and chil- Ixen lived on the Mohawk River in New York State, a mile below his old family homstead, where his aged mother lived with his brothers, John and Barman, and his sis- , ters, Margaret and Rebecca. The Visschers were prominent patriots in the midst of a predominantly Tory neighborhood. In the early days of the struggle forJnde- pendence Frederick had openly defied the Tory leaders at public meetings. He gained their everlasting hatred when he accepted a commission as colonel of one of the Mohawk Valley militia regiments, which he led in the rear-guard action at the Battle of Oriskany in i '.777. In the years that followed the T two Visscher houses were rallying points for the patriot families. In the spring of 1780, on a quiet Sunday night, the dreaded Tory leader Sir John Johnson stole into the Mohawk Valley at the head of 500 British, Tories and Indians. He | split them into two raiding parties to plunder and murder the patriot families. Frederick's wife and children were away on a visit at the time and he was staying at his mother's old house. Just before daybreak 20 of the raiders burned Frederick's house to the ground and made for e old homestead. They tried to bash in the front door, but Frederick with his brothers John and Harman drove them back with musket fire. Then the main body of the enemy, about 3QOO strong, arrived and joined in the attack. At this point old Mrs. Visscher and her daughters hid in the cellar and the three brothers defended the house from the second floor. The raiders soon gained entrance to the house. When they started up the stairs, Mrs. Visscher and the two girls escaped from the cellar. The girls fled to the nearby woods, but their mother was struck down the door by a blow, from a rifle butt. The three brothers were almost out of ammunition and the attackers were forcing their way up the stairs. Young Harmah fired his last shot and leapt from a back window. He was shot dead as he ran across the yard and scalped. As the enemy gained the second floor, Frederick fired the last shot from his pistol and threw the weap- ·On behind him in token of submission. An Indian ran up the struck Historical thriller THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY. By Michael Crichton. Knoff. $7.95 him on the head with a tomahawk. As he fell face forward on the floor, the Indian jumped on him, scalped him and slashed him across the back of the neck with a knife; then he turned him over, slashed his throat and left him for dead. John, in the meantime having run out of ammunition, fought with his sword until he was killed and scalped. The soldiers then fired the house and the raiders fled. Some moments later, Frederick regained consciousness and dragged John's body down the blaz- · ing stairs and into the yard, where he found his mother in shock but , still alive. He carried her to a safe distance from the burning house and exhausted from loss of blood sank down in the grass. Tom Ziebie, the black slave of a friendly neighbor, and Joseph Clement, a Tory neighbor, happened on the scene about the same time. Tom asked for advice in helping the Visschers. Clement growled "Let the cursed rebels die," and walked away. Margaret and Rebecca emerged from their hiding place in the woods and with Tom's help rounded up a pair of colts in the pasture, hitched them to a wagon and carried Frederick and his mother and the bodies of John and Harman to a friend's house. Frederick and his mother recovered. In time he re-. built the old family homestead and lived there with his family. About 10 years after the war a party of Indians camped near the Visscher house Among them was the Indian who had scalped Frederick and cut his throat. When the Indian heard that Colonel Visscher was still alive he was so astonished that he sent word to the house that he wanted to look at bun. The colonel was more than agreeable; he loaded his rifle and attached a bayonet to it in anticipation of the visit. But the colonel's wife, seeing the Indian coming up the trail at the back of the house, tricked the colonel into going to the front of the house and met the Indian at the kitchen door. "You can't see the colonel safely," she said and pointed to the gun and bayonet in the corner of the kitchen. "You had better leave at once." The Indian left and as Mrs.' Visscher watched him disappear down the trail he was still shaking his head with astonishment. History does not record how the colonel felt about being cheated of his revenge. He lived an active life until June 9, 1809 when, according to a newspaper account,-"he died of a complaint in the head" at the age of 68. (Copyright 1975 by John Schoolfield) Well now, it begins to look more and more as though Brian-Moore really hit on something with the metaphor of his latest novel, "The Great Victorian Collection." It would seem that, just as Moore implied with his surreal story, the artifacts of Victoriana do still exert a powerful pull on our 20th-century American imaginations. For hardly had I finished enjoying "The Great Victorian Collection" when I picked up Michael Crichton's "The Great Train Robbery," a documentary novel about a daring crime that was actually pulled off in England in 1855. And found myself not only captivated because it is Crichton's best thriller to date (his previous ones were two rather wooden sci-fi adventures, "The Andromeda Strain" and "The Terminal Man"), but also charmed most of all by the story's Victorian style and content. Not that the crime itself isn't an entertaining one--full of clever twists and turns, surprising reversals and a satisfactory quantity of suspense. A train carrying gold bullion worth 12,000 pounds, a daring plot to heist the gold, conceived by a master criminal who lives in high style in Mayfair, four keys to be located and copied so that two safes may be opened, a railway guard to be blackmailed or bribed, an unprecedented escape from Newgate prison, a fortuitous case of venereal disease--these various elements add up to a plot that properly told, would hold our attention in almost any setting. But what gives "The Great Train Robbery" its particular satisfying flavor is the way Crichton folds in the Victorian ingredients--ingredients such as the Crimean War, to help finance England's share in which the gold is being shipped in the first place, or the period's penchant for secret hiding places, which helps make the search for : and location of the four keys an enterprise of great moment and adventure, or the age's incomplete understanding of a certain law of physics, which helps to explain why the robbery very nearly failed. · Indeed, this is a historical thriller in the truest sense of the phrase precisely because so much that seems implausible at first makes excellent sense once certain background details are filled in. Thus, for example, our credulity may be strained when the need to smuggle a man on board the train is solved by the introduction of a wooden coffin onto the station platform--a coffin, moreover, complete with "several ventholes drilled in the sides" and "on the lid ... a kind of miniature belfry, containing a small bell, with a cord running from the clapper down through a hole to the innards of the coffin." But our disbelief turns to delight and thence to wonder as Crichton pauses to discourse documentarily on the 19th-century obsession with premature burial and on the consequent innovation of "The Bateson Life Revival Device," or "Bate- son's Belfry," as it was ordinarily known whose anxious inventor, one George. Bateson, eventually secured himself against premature burial by setting himself aflame and dying by self-immolation). And when the little bell in this particular coffin's belfry actually begins to ring, thus raising hopes for a resurrection and reversing the psychology of the railway guards (for how much deader seems a fake corpse you" expect to see alive but find looking dead when you open the coffin, than does a fake corpse you suspect of fakery in the first place)-the whole business seems not only plausible, but is also an absolute stroke of genius in plotting. Crichton even uses Victorian underworld argot to embellish his story (or perhaps I should say Crichton does so, since the author did, after all graduate from the Harvard Medical School and has here used his knowledge of medicine more cleverly than in his pre- vious fiction). And if I had to register any complaint about "The Great Train Robbery" it would concern the number of times I had to consult Eric Partridge's "A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional Language" to look up words like "crusher" (a policeman), "flash" (expert), "pull (an illicit trick or,, manipulation) and "ogue" (stolen property). · But this is not a serious drawback. So compelling is "The Great Train Robbery" and so charming is Crichton's manner of unfolding it that you can even run across sentences like "Damn me if I'll voker flames at this dead hour. This is no simple kynchen lay tomorrow. Is that not plain?" and still somehow draw sense for them. You are that caught by it all. By Christopher Lehmann Haupt. M.r. Lehmann-Haupt is a staff writer for the New York Times. Scandal in Scotland "THE BALLAND OF KINTILLO, by Sally Rena, Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., |7.95. setting is a remote Scottish vil- Sinister Sisters "SISTERS IN CRIME," by Freda Adler, McGraw-Hill, $9.95. While millions of women are being liberated today, many thousands more than ever before are being locked up. "Sisters in Crime" is an extensive study of the new breed of female criminals, relating them to the far broader changes in society. · On Dec. 28,1968, Ruth Eisemann- Schier, who was being hunted for her part in a kidnapping, became the first woman ever placed on the FBI's ten most wanted list. Since then there have been many women's names on this list, including the Symboionese Liberation Army leaders. Crime is one area where women are equaling, and in some cases surpassing, men, Freda Adler sees a distinct link between the women's liberation movement and the increase in the incidence and magnitude of female crime! For instance, since the women's liberation movement began, the yearly rate of increase in felonies is six times as great for women as it is for men, and women have graduated from shoplifting . and prostitution to join the ranks of the. armed robbers and murderers. Ms. Adler makes a convincing argument and supports it with extensive research, presented in a highly readable form. The book is rich in detail and incident and offers a fascinating .and thought-provoking view of female crime. No one who reads this book will ever again use the term "the weaker sex." Albert F. Nussbaum lage. So remote, in fact, that the villagers are still Roman Catholics. "If the Protestant reformers had made an effort to reach these coasts," an old priest tells newly- arrived Father James, "they could have converted whole areas to the Church of Scotland." . ·-. Kintillo is a beautiful, lonely place. The people are insular, old fashioned, basically decent. Trouble starts when the old priest dies and young, inexperienced, handsome Father James comes;to replace him. At the same time the daughter of the local wealthy landowner comes home on vacation. Pretty, bored, arid 19, Meriel meets Father James. Even then things might have sorted themselves out-eventually, except for the fact that the priest's housekeeper (Miss Morag)--a half- witted, malicious troublemaker- takes a violent dislike to the young ; priest. " The result is a tragedy the village will remember for generations to come . . . "forbidden love," hatred, jealousy, and murder. This is the first novel by Sally Rena--and you will be hearing more from her. She has a beautiful style--uncluttered, lyrical, expressive. I thought this was going to be a Gothic. The cover gave that impression--lonely house overlooking rocky coast . . . low-hanging clouds. . .brooding man in clerical collar. . young girl with red hair. It isn't a Gothic, however. A more observant reader would have known immediately. There is no solitary light shining from an upstairs window. It seems to be that $7.95 is pretty steep. Maybe you'd rather get it from the library--or hope for a paperback edition. Anne Howard 22m-CtiARLE$'JVN, W VA August 3,1975; SundtiyGazette-M'ail'

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