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THE DICE OF GOD by Hoffman Birney was published in March, 1956 and this paperback edition was released in April, 1957. It was made into a film, THE GLORY GUYS, in 1965, with screenplay by Sam Peckinpah and directed by Arnold Laven. It starred Tom Tryon(before he abandoned acting to become a hell of a writer) as Captain Demas Harrod and Andrew Duggan as General Frederick McCabe(Tuthill in the novel).

Demas Harrod was a man who’d pulled himself up from humble beginnings, a family that didn’t understand his desire to finish school and go on to college. His father wanted him to quit school, help out at the store, and when he wouldn’t, told him at eighteen he was on his own for everything, food, clothes, living quarters. A teacher, who was owed a favor by a politician, helped him, pointing out that going to a military academy would be paid for by the government.

He found himself at West Point, learning to be an officer, being schooled in the graces that went along with such levels, things he had no idea about. During his second year, the Civil War began and an accelerated program was pushed. Line officers were needed and Demas ended up in the cavalry, receiving several brevet promotions up to Major.

At war’s end, he was reduced back to Lieutenant and assigned to the Twentieth Cavalry at the frontier, commanded by one Frederick Tuthill, boy General of the War, an exacting, vain man. An incident happens that drives a wedge between the two men.

While attacking a Cheyenne village, the braves take off while the rest of the village is being shot to pieces. A small group of cavalry follows them and is wiped out to a man while Tuthill keeps the rest at the village, calmly slaughtering three hundred ponies. The nineteen men who’d followed were killed and the bodies savaged while Tuthill sat there watching horses die.

The argument that ensued got Demas transferred out and to Washington, where he set about carving out a career that might take him further places. Six years went by. An older officer told him military wasn’t good for family life. If he had no money of his own, which of course he didn’t, he needed to marry money. He began cultivating the daughter of an millionaire ex-senator, albeit a man still with strong connections in the halls of power.

Things were going swimmingly until he invited her to lunch one day. He’d already set up a private room and had everything ready. He’d overlooked only one thing, or rather didn’t know one thing. When the young woman saw the table, and the glasses of sherry by each plate, she got very angry. She, her whole family, were staunch members of a temperance league.

A few days later he received his transfer orders. Back to the Twentieth Cavalry. Things were different and the same. Most of the people he’d served with were gone, a lot of raw recruits and men with not much experience with the Native American populace. And Tuthill was, if anything, more vain and cocksure than before. Oh, he was polite to Captain Harrod, but he couldn’t hide the dislike in his eyes.

From this point, the novel is an examination of military life from the viewpoint of a number of characters, from the newly enlisted private, under a fake name, that had been a Union officer with two court-martial trials for cowardice in the Civil War, to an Italian man in the States for only a few months, to the naive young man, to the fellow running from a shotgun wedding, a mountain man/scout, and some of the women involved in their lives. Being a fifties novel, any sex is fairly tame compared to the average tale today.

It all leads up to the ending that’s based on a real life incident, one of the bloodiest fights in American history. The cover has it wrong. All characters are fictitious, a deliberate move the author talks about in the afterword. His first draft had a mix of real and made up characters and he decided he didn’t like that, thus making them all fiction.

An interesting book and I thought the look at a wide number of characters didn’t slow the book at all.