Adam Wiktorek takes a piece of history of which I knew nothing and turns it into a pretty interesting story. Following a late-nineteenth century epidemic in upstate new york, the orphanages were overcrowded and the orphaned children outnumbered adoptive parents. Thus, someone came up with the idea of an “orphan train” which would take the waifs cross country and distribute them to adults who wanted to augment their families. The train in this story was neither the first nor the last instance, since according to the author such trains started in the 1850’s and continued into the 1920’s. This particular journey was mission accomplished, having distributed all its kids by the time it got to Idaho, except families were split up. One such, a boy raised as Jacob Mead, is driven to seek out his lost family, thus the quest.
The action opens with the death of his abusive adoptive father on their isolated Idaho farm. A kindly town doctor takes pity on the young man, thinks he deserves educating, and arranges for him to train east to Ithaca with the idea that he will learn enough agricultural technique to make the farm prosper. Before he can get started, though, there’s some serious outlaw action that nearly finishes him and his mother, and whose consequences continue to reverberate throughout the book. Nicely set up.
Problem is, for me, is that much of the writing is a bit clumsy. Full of inconsistent dialect and trivial conversations that do little to advance the action. Further, Wiktorek spends a lot of time on back story to introduce each section of the book ho hum. I found myself skipping large pieces of text to get to the next step, and that step was often predictable.
Jacob’s quest turns into a swarm of Dickensian coincidences that make most of his search pretty easy and devoid of dramatic tension at least as far as the detective work is concerned. The criminals make things plenty hot, and our protagonist makes it easy for them to initiate an almost disastrous final scene by failing to take precautions that any prudent person would under the circumstances.
Final conclusion–interesting enough read, but flawed enough to keep the star count down.