Morrell's Last Reveille a Study of Soldiers Old and Young

posted May 16, 2014, 1:33 PM by Martin Roy Hill   [ updated Aug 4, 2015, 8:18 PM ]
Last Reveille by David MorrellDavid Morrell is best known as a thriller writer, but the author of First Blood, the original Rambo story, often tries on different hats. His novel, Shimmer, for instance, was science fiction, while his latest book, Murder as a Fine Art, is a Victorian murder mystery. In Last Reveille, Morrell again goes off the beaten track. This book is less a thriller than a war story, and less a war story than a character study

The book takes place in 1916 during the Punitive Expedition, the American army force led by Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing and sent to hunt down and capture Pancho Villa after his deadly raid on Columbus, NM. It is the story of two soldiers — one an aging veteran of fighting from the Civil War to the Philippine Insurrection, the other a young boot still wet behind the ears — and the relationship that develops between the two as they endure Pershing's march through the harsh Mexican desert.

Morrell lost his father in WWII and he admits that growing up fatherless has had a thematic impact on his writing. Many of his novels involve the relations between an older man and a younger one. First Blood, for instance, pitted a middle-age Korean War veteran — the sheriff — against the 20-something Vietnam War veteran, Rambo. By the end of the book, the conflict between the two takes on the feeling of a father-son estrangement.

In Reveille, the aging vet agrees to take the younger soldier under his wing and teach him soldiering. The older man's name — Miles Calendar — symbolizes the length of his years, while the younger man's name, Prentice, is a play on the word "apprentice." Both men are orphans and, like the sheriff in First Blood, Calendar regrets never having a son. 

Like many father-son relationships, the bond between Calendar and Prentice is at times rocky. The young man is innocent and inexperienced, while Calendar has been hardened by a life of violence and survival. In between firefights with the Mexican army and Villa’s raiders, the relationship between the two men grows and falters, and grows again. But when young Prentice realizes he's becoming more like hardened Calendar than he would like to be, he begins to rebel.

Morrell explains in his author's forward that while researching the Punitive Expedition he studied dozens of ancient sepia tone photographs. That inspired him to try and duplicate the action captured in those pictures by writing very short scenes in the book. At first this technique is jarring, but it does move the story along briskly, and by the dramatic ending of the book you won't even notice it. 
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