Book Review: The Bully of Order by Brian Hart

The Bully of Order by Brian Hart
September 2, 2014
Harper, New York
400 pages

I am honored to write about The Bully of Order by Brian Hart today, publication day for this new novel. I cannot believe the book is 400 pages, as I was entranced with novel from beginning to end. This book is set in the Pacific Northwest during the late 1800s/early 1900s and tells the story of a particular family that had emigrated to the area.

This little family consisted of Dr. Jacob Ellstrom, his wife, Nell, and their baby boy, Duncan. They settled in a logging town somewhere on the coast of Washington state that was a new, booming, but corrupt settlement run by the logging companies and mill owners in the area, not to mention the mafioso types that were running the labor unions. Dr. Ellstrom fit right in the mix, as he had attended school and had all the proper textbooks and medical references, but he was not really a licensed doctor. Not that not really being a doctor mattered that much when he was helping people and doing the duties of a doctor, such as treating sawing accidents and childhood diseases, until a real doctor showed up and established a bona fide practice. 

Obviously, Jacob Ellstrom had his issues before coming to the northwest, and things quickly spiraled out of control for him and his little family. He was a raging alcoholic, his wife had been abused by his domineering brother who shows up in town, and he abandons Nell and Duncan when they needed him the most. Matius, the no-good brother and his son, Jonas, are in the area for a short time, then they head to Alaska due to the Yukon gold rush.

Nell tries to give Duncan a decent life all on her own, but when Matius returns and causes her to almost lose her life, she abandons Duncan, a young teen. In the meantime, Duncan has fallen for a girl he met on the 4th of July at a celebration, who happens to be a rich girl, the daughter of the local mill owner. No one is exempt from tragedy in this novel. 

Mr. Hart has a unique writing style and weaves his tale via perspective from the main characters, and from memories of some of these characters. I enjoyed his writing immensely because he was very realistic and reflected the grittiness of the area and the times and reflected the sheer strength and will of people to survive in such rough situations. This book, from the beginning to end, is full of surprises good and bad, mostly bad. I have never been to the Pacific Northwest, and have only read about the area through researching Lewis and Clark. Knowing things are better in modern times, reading about what many endured to establish communities in the region was very enlightening.  Mr. Hart is a gifted storyteller. I recommend The Bully of Order. But don’t expect chick lit, that is for sure.


–author Brian Hart

Passages I bookmarked:

“The price of debauchery was absolute, and absolutely everything would be absorbed by it. It had to be. No one could bear this kind of pain. His being was a rotten tooth, and he wanted it extracted, dropped in the pan, marveled at, and finally chucked or crusted under a boot heel. That is to say, he wanted to die.”

“We’re all fallible, dear, but some are more foul than able.”

“He’d be left behind now. Nell would be gone. People are loved more for dying than for living. We love the image more than the being itself. How’s that make God, he wondered. It’s likely that the image is a far cry from the being. We pity the poor but loathe the beggar. Love the frontier but cower in the wilderness. Man’s imagination is at once the blade that defends and the stone that crushes. He could’ve married Nell if he weren’t married already, if she weren’t. If he weren’t exactly the man he was. Marrying the wrong woman was the worst kind of mistake. He imagined losing a limb in some drunken accident and having to tell the story for the rest of hist life.”

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  3 comments for “Book Review: The Bully of Order by Brian Hart

  1. September 2, 2014 at 12:00 PM

    Wonderful review, Denise. The character’s feelings come through very well in the pages you bookmarked. Especially with this line: “No one could bare this kind of pain.” And his take on imagination — at once the blade and the stone — very well written.

    • September 2, 2014 at 5:12 PM

      Hi, Silvia! Thank you, as always, for commenting. I enjoyed this book. Could not put it down. It was heavy duty!!

  2. September 5, 2014 at 1:39 PM

    I’ve read other books set in logging town in this time period … life was certainly rough for families back then. I’m glad to see that this book was so readable and the pages flew by! Thanks for being a part of the tour.

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