Lords of St Thomas by Jackson Ellis

Published: 10th April 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Green Writers Press
Pages: 180
Format: ebook
Genre: Historical Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

In the Mojave Desert, at the southern end of the isolated Moapa Valley, sat the town of St. Thomas, Nevada. A small community that thrived despite scorching temperatures and scarce water, St. Thomas was home to hardy railroad workers, farmers, shopkeepers, teachers, and a lone auto mechanic named Henry Lord.

Born and raised in St. Thomas, Lord lived in a small home beside his garage with his son, Thomas, his daughter-in-law, Ellen, and his grandson, “Little” Henry. All lived happily until the stroke of a pen by President Coolidge authorizing the construction of the Boulder (Hoover) Dam. Within a decade, more than 250 square miles of desert floor would become flooded by the waters of the Colorado River, and St. Thomas would be no more.

In the early 1930s, the federal government began buying out the residents of St. Thomas, yet the hardheaded Henry Lord, believing the water would never reach his home, refused to sell. It was a mistake that would cost him―and his family―dearly.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book for review

This may only be a quick read but it is an engaging and captivating story. It crosses two points in time, when our narrator Henry is a young boy and when he is an old man. These two points in time alternate but the story mainly focuses on the earlier time period. I enjoyed this change because from the opening I was expecting the story to go another way and I am glad it went in the direction it did.

The story is about home and the past. It is also about family. Ellis has written a fascinating story that questions all of this and weaves it together with style and seamlessness. The two periods rest side by side and Ellis uses the narrator’s voice to give us all the information we need without heavy exposition. Instead it is woven through and details are revealed at intervals when they are pertinent. Little Henry tells the story of his childhood living in St Thomas and the changes that come about when there is a threat to the town with the construction of the new dam. As a non-American I was interested in the history the story shows about the development of the dam and even though Ellis has fictionalised it, there are pictures included at the end that show where his inspiration came from.

This story could easily have been longer but I am glad Ellis has kept it short. It has a lot more power and through the narrative and dialogue all the information we need has been included without it become too wordy. The character development is all there and through Henry’s reflections and observations we gain more insight into characters whose voices we don’t often get to hear. Ellis shows well and doesn’t often tell and even with his few observations there is a lot said in a few words. The imagery is also wonderfully vivid and I could picture everything Henry is telling us, from the small run down school room to the encroaching water and hard dry desert.

There is heartache and mystery but there is also a bittersweet reality that I really liked. The hardships the family endures and the drama around their lives takes it toil but there is also strong family bonds. The novel takes place across the decades of the 20th century and seeing the changes from the 1930s to the 1990s and beyond not only shows to contrast in the environment, but also in the progress of humanity and it is a reminder of what life was like in those early years. It certainly has a lot of poignancy and intrigue and to capture all that in 180 pages is a wonderful feat.

You can purchase Lords of St Thomas via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Wordery

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust