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Crescent Blues Book ViewsOestara Publishing, ISBN 1594577803

The Joshua Machine by James H. Clay is a lyrical and moving novella. Only 76 pages long, it proves as stark and elusive as the ocean against which its action unfolds.

Book:james h clay, the joshua machine

In 1831, a man named John Rills appears suddenly in Truro on Cape Cod. Aloof and eccentric, Rills soon draws the ire of the local deacon Owen Antrim. Antrim decides to devote his life to ruining Rills's, which as can be expected, leads to rather tragic results. The story develops slowly, in the gossipy, entangled way that events take place in small towns like Truro. Clay takes his time to explain Antrim's motivations. Along the way other characters become fleshed out, particularly Antrim's nephew Justin Gorran and the woman he comes to love, Ellie Simms. Few characters, in fact, escape Clay's fine eye for characterization.

The Joshua Machine of the title is a single gigantic bell that Rills installs along the beach by his home. This monster of a bell completes a virtual carillon of bells set in the sand along the Truro coast. Each bell rings only when the wind reaches a certain speed, and together they serve as a sort of auditory weather alert system. The Joshua Machine rings only at the most horrendous storm, at wind speeds described as "higher than a hurricane." The townspeople wonder if such a wind even exists. The bell becomes necessary, however, for the wrath of Owen Antrim, when it comes, blows with a fierce intensity.

Readers looking for a rousing action adventure story will not enjoy this book. Clay takes pains to build the mood of his story and to develop his characters. In particular, he refrains from portraying in any sort of a good guy/bad guy dichotomy between Rills and Antrim. Each retains a distinct personality, and the strength of these personalities drives the story to its surprising ending. While the book suffers from a rather high number of typographical errors and the writing itself is sometimes imprecise, the reader who soldiers through these distractions will be rewarded with a little gem of a book.

Kathryn Yelinek

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