Book Review: Heart of Abigail by R. Phillip Ritter

When I was a young adult, my mother struck a gold mine at Costco; they were selling these three-packs of very well written historical fiction novels, and she bought every one in the series. I was at the age that I still enjoyed reading much more than watching "Home Improvement" reruns, so I got hooked on them. I'd bet that they're still stacked on a shelf somewhere in my parents' house, waiting for someone to revisit them.

I enjoyed the historical fiction genre because I could get my drama and education intake simultaneously, really seeing an event through the eyes of "someone who was there." After reading them, I felt like I'd been along for the ride on the Oregon Trail or on the fateful voyage of the Titanic.

So I was thoroughly pleased when Mr. Ritter came along with his new book, "Heart of Abigail, A Lyric Novella of Juneau, Douglas and Treadwell." A historical fiction novel including bouts of heroic verse, "Heart of Abigail" tells a story set in Juneau during the time of the Treadwell mines. (Apparently, it was his wife's idea.)

The book begins with a page of poetry, as does every subsequent chapter. The poetry, I feel, nicely enhances the prose. The author also inserts little first-person tidbits here and there, as if he is speaking face-to-face with his reader.

The plot is a combination of historical description and dramatic narrative, a story of love and hate, evil and good. But it's no soap opera. It's educational too.

I'm an ex-guide who used to lead tours through the Treadwell ruins. I'm pretty familiar with the history of the mine, which made the story quite exciting to me. However, the author has included an assortment of endnotes for those less familiar with the area's bygone days. The reader may choose to employ the endnotes during the reading of the book or once they are through with it. Historical photos are also included to provide a bit of visual context as to the places that are being described in the story.

The thing I enjoy most about Ritter's writing is the way he includes familiar elements to bring his readers close to the events of the story. These elements are things that Juneauites still experience on a daily basis: hearing the song of a varied thrush, the view of the Gastineau Channel from an office window, or listening to the rain. Ritter's descriptions brought me back in time, as if I was sitting amidst the bustling traffic of Treadwell during its prime.

After all, if you live in downtown Douglas, you could read "Heart of Abigail" while sitting in the very spot that its fictional events would have occurred. You can't get much closer to the action than that.

The original review can be found here.