Paddy Quinn, “the boy who ate rattlesnakes” and lost a hand to a cannon blast during the Mexican War, returns as a famous Civil War correspondent and battlefield sketch artist, in James Alexander Thom’s new novel, Fire in the Water.
Thom, Indiana’s prize-winning historical novelist, and author of the New York Times bestseller Follow the River, said, “Here we go up another river, the Mississippi this time, following another dramatic true story. To me, stories flow like rivers through time.”
The central action in the novel is the tragic explosion and burning of the paddlewheel steamboat SULTANA near Memphis in the last days of the war, killing some 1,800 homebound Yankee survivors of the hellish Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp in Georgia.
But the undercurrent of the novel is the national mourning for assassinated President Lincoln, whose corpse was en route on his funeral train to Springfield, Illinois at the time of the disaster. War correspondent Quinn, newly wed in New Orleans, is on board the SULTANA with his bride, assigned to report and illustrate Lincoln’s funeral and burial for Harper’s Weekly.
When Quinn and an Indiana-born prison survivor he’s interviewing are blown overboard into the cold, flooded Mississippi by the midnight boiler explosion, it is their grit and resourcefulness, but mostly their vow to get to Lincoln’s funeral, that keep them alive as hundreds perish around them in the flame-lit night.
Thom’s personal interest in the disaster was sparked by his years as a history lecturer on the Delta Queen steamboat, and by his great grandfather who was a survivor of Andersonville Prison.
Thom identified strongly with his protagonist Quinn because of his role as a journalist. Formerly a newspaperman with The Indianapolis STAR and other papers, Thom is an inductee of the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame. His thoroughly-researched historical novels have sold more than two million copies. He was the inaugural winner of the Indiana Author Award in 2009. Two of his Indian War novels were made into television movies, by Hallmark and by Ted Turner.
You can order your copy of Fire in the Water today. If you are in the Indianapolis area on Saturday, December 5th, stop by the Historical Society, 450 West Ohio Street, and visit Mr. Thom and his wife Dark Rain at Lily Hall. They will be there from 12:00 – 4:00 pm signing books and talking with guests.
If you are in the Bloomington, Indiana area on Sunday, December 6th, stop by the Barnes & Noble, 2813 East 3rd St. between 1:00 – 3:00 pm and you will have a chance to talk to them and have your book signed.