I expected Max Byrd’s historical novel to be about the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic or the two-term President of the United States. Instead, the jacket said, the book is set 15 years after the guns fell silent, during the days leading up to the 1880 Republican convention. I still assumed that the story would focus on the title character—a fascinating, flawed, larger-than-life figure.
Instead, it’s centered on two reporters with differing views of Ulysses S. Grant and on the political operatives—real and fictional—surrounding his battle for nomination to a third presidential term. Among the players are Senator J. Donald Cameron and flirtatious wife Elizabeth, Washington socialites Henry and Clover Adams, and General William Tecumseh Sherman and his politically ambitious brother.
Despite pages of character development, there are numerous lost opportunities to have the characters do anything compelling. Byrd manages to make a 36-ballot presidential-nomination vote as dull as a modern political-convention credentials debate. It was too easy to put this novel down, and there’s too little to reward the reader who perseveres.