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NOW AVAILABLE: Vol. 1 of Blithering Antiquity, the author's compendium of historical oddities.
The Chalk Town Train:
What Reviewers Are
"Eight tales of mystery sure to delight armchair sleuths.
Harper, a crime reporter for The Challenge, delves into
investigations from another era . . . when there were no computers and a
database consisted of well-worn scrapbooks. Ramble through the forests,
ride the rails and jostle about on farm buggies as Harper attempts to
solve crimes in South Carolina during the late 19th Century.
* * *
"These days, anthologies tend to be either collections of the year's best something-or-other or compilations of literary short stories intended to elevate and edify. Both have their place in the scheme of things, but I suspect I'm not the only one who misses anthologies that contain just good entertainment.
"If that's the case, may I offer for your amusement a slim little volume of tales by journalist Daniel Elton Harmon and featuring an historical counterpart of the author by the name of Harper. Mr. Harper is a reporter for the fictitious Columbia, S.C., Challenge in the almost-civilized era of the 1880s. The first compilation of his adventures, The Chalk Town Train & Other Tales is billed as Volume One of "The Harper Chronicles," and those of us who like nothing better than a rollicking good yarn will be waiting impatiently for Volume Two.
"The title story pits Harper against a notorious sociopath, back before such people actually had a diagnosis. "The Chalk Town Train" is a story of corporate shenanigans, unadulterated evil and justice administered with more than a touch of irony. Indeed, the purveyance of justice is a recurring theme in the eight stories that comprise the book, with our man Harper using his skill and insight to ferret out the truth, sometimes when no one else can.
"Mr. Harmon has a superbly deft hand with the short story, and his characters are sharply drawn with a few adept strokes. From first word to last, each of Harper's adventures proceeds without a stumble, and the reader who can stop after reading just one must have a will of iron. His style is crisp and effortless, setting scenes with an economy of language that likely owes much to the author's own career as a journalist.
"Indeed, the only real flaw in The Chalk Town Train is that it's over too soon, and before the appetite is satisfied."
* Elizabeth Burton, Blue Iris Journal
* * *
"Imagine a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Mark Twain and you get some idea of these entertaining stories set in post-Reconstruction South Carolina. Harper, a journalist on the Columbia Challenge, combines his powers of intuition and deduction with a newspaperman's observation and a nonconformist's detachment to investigate the crimes and mysteries that come his way. In 'The Swindlers' Circle' he exposes a businessmen's financial scam; while covering a court case in Charleston, he meets some sailors ('The Derelict Seamen') whom he soon realizes are not the innocent shipwreck victims they claim to be; and in 'The Tavern Horror' the sighting of a British Redcoat's ghost conceals a more sinister mystery. Some of his sleuthing unearths the traumatic past: ex-slaves fleeing injustice in 'Convicts of the Congaree'; the tragic story behind some mysterious burials in 'The Marion Graves.'
"Linking the 8 stories are the attractive character of Harper himself -- aloof, wryly humorous, a man of integrity who eschews the gratuitously sensational; his own crisp observations of the victims, villains, relatives and rivals who populate his days; and the vivid descriptions of the town and country settings of the tales.
"Written with verve, wit, and freshness, this is a high-quality read from an author who, one feels, instinctively knows how to tell a good, old-fashioned story."
* Sarah Cuthbertson, Historical Novel Society
* * *
"Harper is a crime reporter for a South Carolina newspaper called The Challenge during the Reconstruction era. He not only reports on crimes and mysteries but sometimes even has a hand in solving them and in this slim volume of short stories he gets to the bottom of a murderous ghostly Redcoat, a soi-disant Devil’s Island escapee who intrudes on his camping holiday, finds out who lies buried in six unmarked graves that nobody will talk about and saves the President’s bacon among other things. This is what the book is about, but it conveys nothing of the magic of these tales. I am not normally a short story fan and always say I like a longer novel to get my teeth into but there is plenty in these brief tales to satisfy several sets of teeth. Drawing on a rich heritage of fiction Harmon has come up with a unique character that although he is never physically described comes to vivid life from his first introduction, and a way of telling the stories that kept making me think they were written back in the 1890s instead of just being set then. Think of Davidson Post’s Uncle Abner stories or Blackwood’s John Silence, mix them together and you have something like Harper and something of the ambience of these laconic – but well realised - vignettes. Harmon has taken words and crafted them into something that ought to be called literature. This isn’t a literary novel – there is nothing obscure here – but I think literary fans would find much to applaud.
words and a bold stroke of the pen and it all leaps to life in a way that
many wordier writers must surely envy. I
read a lot of historical crime but this has to be one of the best –
and most imaginative – books I have read this year.
One for the keeper shelf (it doesn’t even take up much
* Rachel A Hyde, MyShelf.com,
* * *
"Harper is a journalist in Columbia, South Carolina, who 'writes
the criminal news and sporting columns for a small daily.' So says
Mr. Gray, security chief, to the president of the United States, Chester
A. Arthur, in the tale 'The Kornegaut Letter,' one of a series
of enjoyable short stories involving the journalist. Harper, born in
1845, fought in the Civil War, and was captured in 1864 and held in the
Ganderson and Slidell camps. He was released in '65 into the custody of
relations in Scotland until the end of the conflict, at which time he
returned to the United States to work as a journalist.
"His new profession provides him with wonderful (to read) adventures,
some of which are life-threatening. We first meet Harper in the story 'The Chalk Town Train' when a friend of his, a conductor named
'Ox' Moore, confronts a contentious passenger, disarms him and
throws him (literally) off his train. It is minutes later when he learns
that the young man he threw off was none other than Jeremiah Bodie, a
known and feared killer. Bodie, Ox knows, will be back, to exact revenge
for his treatment.
"Thus begins a nice western tale of inevitable showdown. The railroad
that Ox works for wants no adverse publicity and no trouble, and
suspends Ox without pay. Ox meets Harper and requests the reporter's
help, and together the two seek to keep Ox alive and make sure the 'scar-faced young man with the mustache' never gets a chance
to achieve revenge.
"Each tale is wonderfully titled -- 'The Swindlers Circle,' 'The Convicts of the
Congaree,' 'The Tavern Horror,'
etc. -- and each is as wonderfully written, true page-turners all. If
there's any complaint at all it's that some of the tales deserve to be
longer. Certainly the aforementioned 'The Kornegaut Letter'
contains substantial enough plot to provide for a good novella or
complete novel. I've read longer books with less plot behind them. If
these tales were made longer, it would also allow the author to put more
twists and turns into them as well.
"Some tales allow the reporter to display a certain Holmesian deductive ability to solve mysteries, while others simply feature him in the middle of the action, as in 'The Chalk Town Train.'
"Author Daniel Elton Harmon writes with a striking sense of historical
accuracy, capturing the period in the Southern United States following
the Civil War very well (or so it seemed to me, an admitted non-expert
in American history).
"If one is looking for good casual summer reading, a book to take
along to read while traveling, or a book to relax with while sunning at
the beach, then one could do no better than to purchase The Chalk
Town Train. It provides easy, enjoyable entertainment.
* Mary B. Stuart, Curled Up With a Good Book
* * *
"The title may be a mouthful, but after reading this slim volume of short stories, you'll be hoping for volume two. As a reader, you'll appreciate Harper's unerring sense of justice and his ability to unearth mysteries wherever he is. He's also a quiet, single man with little life outside his job. He's a good reporter and a careful one, much to the consternation of his brother-in-law, who also is his editor. He will release no story before its time, no matter how sensational it may sound, nor how many times a rival newspaper beats him to the story. In the end, Harper has his facts straight and his copy flawless.
"With his formalized way of telling a story and his ear for dialect, Harmon puts readers in the period with more than passing references to outdated things. You almost believe that Harmon, as well as Harper, boards trains on a regular basis.
"Short stories have grown out of fashion since most mainstream magazines stopped including one or two in each edition, but Chalk Town Train lets us see what we've been missing."
* Ann Patterson, Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, SC)
* * *
"Although this is the first book of fiction by Daniel Elton
Harmon, it is far from his first published work. He has written more
than thirty non-fiction books.
"This is a fascinating collection of eight short stories, each
featuring his late-nineteenth-century newspaper reporter hero, Harper.
They held my interest to the end.
"Harmon is a skilled writer, and I look forward to reading more
of his work. He is a yarn spinner of the old school, reminiscent of
Samuel Clemens or Booth Tarkington, who revels in story telling for the
sake of story telling. A modern troubadour. He lives in Lexington, South
Carolina where he is well known not only for his writing, but also for
his music making with his small folk music band, according to the book's
"There are eight short stories in the book, all of which are
quickly read and very entertaining. This is a wonderful book to read for
your own pleasure, or to give as a gift. I recommend it highly. . . .
I've enjoyed it immensely."
* Joseph Pierre, amazon.com
reviewer, author of The Road to Damascus and other books
* * *
"A delightful collection of short stories reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Harper is a journalist in South Carolina in the late 19th century. His beat is crime stories. What sets him apart from his fellow journalists is his integrity and refusal to sensationalize the stories he covers.
"He gets to do quite a bit of sleuthing and
brings us unusual stories that have mystified the inhabitants of the
towns he covers. The chronicles
are great little stories, and are wonderfully written.
Daniel Harmon has proven what a great story teller he is.
A perfect way to enjoy these stories is to read them aloud with
those close to you who enjoy hearing a good tale."
* Diane Morgan, NewBookReviews.com
* * *
"Now I remember why I was once an avid reader of short stories. It was because of stories like Daniel Elton Harmon writes in his just published The Chalk Town Train & Other Tales.
"In a long-ago world, the mainstay of many weekly and monthly magazines was the fiction short story. In that long-ago world, I waited beside the mailbox on the day that magazines like The Saturday Evening Post, Look and Redbook were delivered because they entertained me with some of the best short story fiction ever written. . . .
"Today, most short stories are published in books and a few intellectual magazines. Usually when I finish reading these stories, I scratch my head and wonder what I've read. Maybe—just maybe—with his Chalk Town Train, Harmon is starting a trend back to popular short stories that are written for no reason except to entertain. . . .
"Chalk has delightful, entertaining short stories. The kind I used to read in The Saturday Evening Post. . . . I sure hope there will be a volume two and three and on and on."
* Winston Hardegree, Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, SC)
* * *
"This wonderful collection
of short stories just blew me away. Set in the Reconstruction South era of the
late 1800s, the stories follow the career of Harper, the crime reporter for
South Carolina's Challenge newspaper. I'll admit to not being a big fan
of historical mysteries, but I was absolutely fascinated by this collection of
stories. Harmon paints such a richly colored portrait of the times that I felt
like I was actually there watching the stories as they unfolded. I started out
telling myself 'I have some free time, I'll just read "The Chalk Town
Train". . . .' I enjoyed it so much I read on through 'The Swindlers
Circle,' then 'Convicts of the Congaree.' I kept telling myself 'Just one more
. . .' and was suddenly shocked to find I'd read through the entire book!
Delving into 'The Harper Chronicles' you will encounter escaped prisoners,
shipwrecks, six lonely graves at the edge of a field the townspeople don't want
to talk about, and even President Chester A. Arthur.
"If I was the kind of person to rate books with stars, The Chalk Town
Train & Other Tales would be given 5 stars!! It will be published in
November by Trafford Publishing. Get your copy as soon as you can! I sincerely
hope more volumes of 'The Harper Chronicles' are set for the future."
* Elizabeth Henze, MurderExpress
* * *
"We have always known Dan was an outstanding writer, but he has outdone himself with these mystery tales. . . . [F]ascinating stories of adventure . . . a trip back in time that is hard to put down."
* Rose T. Wilkins, Sandlapper Magazine
* * *
"I call them 'literary suspense' because they are page turners that possess the tone and color and drama of literature. Don't be put off, though, by such a fancy notion. These are well-told tales. . . .
"Dan's stories are like Lexington County boiled peanuts. You can't stop after just one. . . . If you are looking for a good read—or a gift for someone special—this is a book I recommend."
* Jerry Bellune, The Lexington County Chronicle (SC)
* * *
"Dan is a gifted writer who can tell a story that
captures and holds your interest with the anticipation of suspense as to
how the next story will engage you."
* Rev. Peter Waid, Spartanburg Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (SC)
* * *
". . . . The collection includes 8 stories, some of which are longer and more fully developed. Among the lengthier stories are the title story, about a train conductor on the route to “Chalk Town” and his confrontation with the famous outlaw Jeremiah Bodie. “Convicts of the Congaree” features Harper on vacation, when he meets up with a group of escaped convicts. Shorter stories such as “The Bartender’s Keepsake” show that Harper often keeps confidences rather than reporting great stories. Thus, people more willingly tell him of great adventure, and Harper will never be a big-time news reporter. A simple, single man, Harper enjoys interacting with people from all walks of life. He often reads his Bible and goes fishing for enjoyment. Though he has a soft spot for the down-trodden in society, Harper also plays the detective, with little sympathy for liars and murderers. Overall, The Chalk Town Train is a fine collection of adventure stories about small-town newspaper life in the South, a good entrance of fiction from an author who has previously written many non-fiction books."
* Linda Ochsner, World Historical Fiction
* * *
"Daniel Elton Harmon, a newcomer to the Spartanburg community, is the author of over 30 nonfiction books including Nigeria, The Titanic from the series 'Great Disasters: Reforms and Ramifications' and many juvenile biographies. He has also served as the associate editor of Sandlapper magazine.
"Harmon has recently published a collection of short mystery stories called The Chalk Town Train & Other Tales. The setting for these mysteries is over 100 years in the past in and around Columbia. His main character is Harper, a journalist for a fictional newspaper in Columbia. Harper uses his many talents in searching out a news story to solve local mysteries. Readers get to ride the South Carolina trains of old (especially the one that takes Harper to 'the Hub,' or Spartanburg, in the middle of the night for a secret meeting). Readers also join Harper at elegant dinners in Columbia and trashy dives on the waterfront in Charleston. From delightful, curious country maidens to runaway convicts to a female cohort to crooks and gunfighters, Harmon offers some delicious characters.
". . . . Readers who enjoy the Hub City Writing Project and Sandlapper will enjoy Chalk Town."
* Margaret W. Dunn, Alpha Mu’s News
* * *
"About a year ago, I wrote a column about how tunesmiths and short-story writers have a lot in common, and I used Steve Earle's first book of short fiction, Doghouse Roses, as an example.
"Two more writers who also make music, Dan Harmon and David Clark, have released short-story collections and both have the rhythm and swing of the South.
"Harmon lives in Spartanburg, but he's known in these parts as a former member of The Apple Ensemble, who played Celtic and old-time mountain music in the Midlands. His new book, The Chalk Town Train & Other Tales, is a nifty collection of historical mysteries set in South Carolina in the late 1890s.
"Clark lives in an old farm house on a dirt road near Cochran, Ga., and his book, The Peanut Farmer Stories, is just that—essays and tales from rural Georgia.
"Fans of southern yarn-spinning will enjoy both of these cool collections."
* Michael Miller, The State newspaper (Columbia, SC)
© 2002-2012, Daniel Elton Harmon