Tom Hall is one of those rare books which qualifies as a Young Adult novel as well as a challenging read for adults. In this coming-of-age work, twelve-year-old Tom Hall must accompany his sick father to a tuberculosis sanitarium in Arizona. The year is 1945, and Eddie, Tom’s father, calls the magic mountain “a place where a bunch of men wait to die.” Tom discovers the world of the Arizona back country, witnesses a savage beating of an American Indian friend, and comes to recognize the awful finality of a terminal illness. He and his father move to Los Angeles with Larry, Eddie’s nurse from the sanitarium, and Tom encounters new experiences. He learns about beach life, about survival on the streets, about carnivals and horse races; he skips school and rides the electric streetcars, searching for meaning in a life that seems to be on hold, both frightening and exciting. The startling conclusion of this story will stay with the reader long after the final page is turned.
Russell Hill is a three-time nominee for the Edgar Allen Poe prize. His books, Lucy Boomer and The Lord God Bird have been optioned for film, and his work has been translated into French, German and Polish. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area, is married, and has three grown children. He is an avid fly fisher and his book, The Search for Sheepheaven Trout has become a “cult classic” among fly fishers.
You can visit his writing at russellhillwriter.wordpress.
Other books by Russell Hill:
Letters from the Mines (poetry)
The Search for Sheepheaven Trout (essays)
The Heeler (short stories)
The Edge of the Earth (originally titled Cold Creek Cash Store)
The Lord God Bird
The Dog Sox
-Jeff Fleischer, ForeWord Magazine –
This memorable novel from an expert writer is a story about a boy and his father, and how illness changed their lives. With Tom Hall & the Captain of All These Men of Death, Russell Hill has written a coming-of-age novel that works just as well for its intended young-adult audience as it does for general readers. Hill creates a memorable child protagonist, a fully realized story, and a nice mix of tragedy and nostalgia. Tom Hall is a fast read, and an enjoyable one…Hill is an expert at setting a scene and using locations to drive the story. The sanitarium feels very real, both claustrophobic and a source of numerous adventures for a curious boy. The other places that become Tom’s haunts have a welcome nostalgic feel, including a carnival with an of-its-time sideshow and a racetrack where Eddie gets a job as a runner. The 1940’s setting is described with a nice level of detail without taking over the story, and current events are mentioned only in passing this is a story about a boy and his father, and how the latter’s illness changes their lives. Though the story is told from the perspective of an older Tom looking back on his childhood, the first-person narration still feels like it s coming from the perspective of a twelve-year-old. He gradually comes to important realizations, particularly about the sanitarium and Larry’s real role in his father’s life. He is far from a perfect child and becomes an adept liar as he learns to navigate the unusual specifics of his life. However, he remains a reliable narrator, as the story reveals information as Tom learns it. Hill really pulls off that difficult perspective in writing a memorable novel.
– Jeff Fleischer, ForeWord Magazine 5/15
Anonymous Amazon customer –
Eddie Hall’s wife left him and their tweener son Tom in Chicago to move back to Kentucky with their eight year old daughter Pamela. In 1945 tuberculosis forces Eddie to quit his job at the race tracks near Chicago. Soon afterward Eddie, accompanied by twelve years old Tom, ride the train to the Metzenbaum Sanitarium in Arizona where he expects to die.
No healthy child has ever arrived at the sanitarium before, so no one knows what to do with Tom. In nearby Vallecitos, the lad makes friends with three Indian boys (Willie, Tiny and Chief), and at the sanitarium with some of the “Lungers” and Nurse Larry. Tom becomes confused when he sees his dad dancing with Larry and over the unnecessary death of Willie. When his father informs him that they, Larry who caught TB working at the clinic, Tiny and Chief will head to Los Angeles as Metzenbaum is a quack, Tom looks forward to new adventures.
With a title reference to John Bunyan, Tom Hall & The Captain Of All These Men Of Death is a fascinating coming of age historical. The stunning insight into the TB clinics of the 1940s grips the reader as if we are with Tom witnessing firsthand how a sanitarium was run. While coming across as a novella sequel to the remarkable sanitarium subplot; Tom and company’s trip to Southern California provides a deep look at life in post WWII Los Angeles, but though extremely well-written lacks the dynamic force generated by the stay at Magic Mountain.
I really loved this book, and hadn’t known what I would be in for. It’s a stunning look into a difficult past, with a freedom despite everything. It takes you in, compelling, and alluring. I can still feel and see this book, a few years after reading it.