The Atlantic Bookshelf: Conclusion

A wrap up of book reviews from Edward Weeks

FROM its title you know at once that Guns of Burgoyne (Stokes, $2.50) has for its climax that surrender which was one of the turning points in our fight for independence. But what sets this novel apart from the others of its period is the sympathetic and to me freshly entertaining story of the Hessians, those sluggish mercenaries sold down the river by their Elector for so much a pound, fighting because they had no escape, stumbling through the north woods in their gaudy, unendurable uniforms, tormented by mud, Indians, and mosquitoes, sniped at by Morgan’s men, but emerging at last — those who survived — into the clearings, into the farm lands where, with the shock of surrender, came the realization that here they might settle as free men. This narrative has long waited to be told, and it delights me to see it handled so capably by Bruce Lancaster.
For his hero Mr. Lancaster has chosen a sixfoot Saxon, Kurt Ahrens, a young artillery officer who was educated at Harrow and is thus knowledgeable in the ways of his allies the English, A bachelor, Kurt is soldiering to pay his family’s debts. Not only is Lieutenant Ahrens the one perfect liaison officer on Burgoyne’s expedition, but he is also an expedient messenger to bring home to the realistic reader of to-day the almost incredible stupidities of ‘Gentleman Johnny’ and his staff. Kurt is adaptable (which is more than can be said for his fellow officers), he has the welfare of his men at heart, he realizes the folly of European tactics in an American campaign. What is more, being good to look at and easy to think about, he soon involves us in a romance the outcome of which is never seriously in doubt. Whether there ever was such an embodiment of common sense in Burgoyne’s force, whether the General himself was such a high liver and such a poor soldier, whether Judith could have lived so unmolested in her one-horse shay — these are questions of emphasis. But of the vitality of the Hessians, the punishment in the woods, and the ‘feel’ of battle there can be no doubt.