Cover art by Jared Boggess.
Ambrose Bierce (1842–1914?) is one of the most colorful and inscrutable figures in American literature. He had a long literary career in San Francisco before disappearing in a cloud of smoke in the Mexican Civil War. His life story is ripe for fictional treatment, and Don Swaim has brought all his knowledge of Bierce — and his skill as a novelist — to bear in The Assassination of Ambrose Bierce.
The novel tells of Bierce’s departure from his home in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1913 and his venture into Mexico, where he meets a number of the leading figures in the Mexican Civil War, notably Pancho Villa. Intermixed with Bierce’s lively encounters with the ill-educated and violent Villa are passages where Bierce recalls the more notable episodes of a long and rich life, notably his participation in some of the grisliest battles of the Civil War.
In the end, Bierce, after escaping death on several occasions in the Mexican Civil War, ventures up with Villa to Saratoga Springs, where he unexpectedly falls in love with a fetching woman, Elizabeth Dumont, justifying Swaim’s provocative subtitle (“A Love Story”). Along the way, Bierce also has repeated encounters with “the Damned Thing” — the baleful figure of death.
This novel — by turns moving, funny, and terrifying — will be richly enjoyed by aficionados of Ambrose Bierce and with any readers who like a well-told tale that evokes the past with vividness and panache.