Come and Take It: Search for the Treasure of the Alamo
by Landon Wallace
Having recalled the Alamo from history lessons and visited once during a short stay in San Antonio, I was intrigued by the idea of Alamo historical fiction, since I haven’t seen much of the topic in this genre. I admit I was a little apprehensive, given my greater familiarity with Revolutionary battles and locations than Texas history, but decided to let my distant “connection” and a trial lawyer storyteller lead the way. In the end, the gamble led to a clear win.
Opening with the robbery and murder of a World War II hero and descendant of an Alamo leader’s slave, Landon Wallace’s Come and Take It shifts from the veteran Joe Travis’s point of view to that of his grandson, tasked with sorting his late grandfather’s affairs. Nat has an abrasive relationship with his brother, Joseph, though the two manage to keep it together enough to advance in brief stages. Joseph is a rising star in the political scene, a status Nat neither understands nor appreciates, and Wallace’s skillful treatment of their exchanges not only bestows a sense of realism, but also avoids the “bad brother/good brother” stereotype. Joseph, too, loved Papa Joe, and in fairness his physical distance from his brother interferes in allowing him to see, as Nat does, events as they play out.
As the novel progresses, new characters are introduced by way of their own points of view opening various scenes—a perilous undertaking if done too loosely, though equally iffy when an author doesn’t allow characters to take enough control of their own roles. The balance Wallace displays results in characters who actually live and breathe on the pages of this book, and even the extreme personality of Angelina, Daughters of the Republic of Texas member and treasure seeker, has its roots in being a lifelong recipient of Texas lore, ancestors revered and a 175-year-old myth. Combined with her addictive personality, readers can see why she allows herself to be swept away, even if they don’t agree:
But even if reason told her different, Angelina couldn’t let go, her whole being so wrapped into the prize that she couldn’t give up. She knew that the treasure hunt had become a narcotic, as powerful an obsession as a junkie’s addiction, but it didn’t matter.
Wallace also weaves an unlikely romance between small-town coach Nat and his former sister-in-law, Renee, a history professor on sabbatical, with expertise in unraveling the knotted threads of history and asking the right questions in order to gauge what they should be looking for. Renee also happens to be quite personable and lovely, so it seems almost a matter of course they should be drawn together, though the pair resist and are driven apart by opposing perceptions in how to proceed.
Whether teaming up harmoniously or being wedged apart, Nat and Renee also present as characters one can believe in, and grow to care about as they progress from initial discovery to coming to understand what readers knew before them:
“Nat, hi,” Renee said [into the phone] while looking over at her mother, who raised her eyebrows and grinned. “We had a great time but we’re glad to be home.” She shrugged toward her mother, as if to ward off her suggestive look. “How’s the research going?”
“That’s why I’m calling. I had a breakthrough while you were gone.”
“Really?” Renee countered.
“It all started with a prompt from Joseph.”
“Yeah, I think you know the guy.” Nat chuckled. “Listen to this. He hired a private investigator to look into Papa Joe’s death and never told me about it.”
“Are you surprised?” Renee asked, taking a seat.
“No, I guess not. At first I was hot … I figured he’d hired the guy just to look into me, but I got over it. But then I did find something totally unexpected.”
“You have my attention.”
“Joseph’s guy reviewed phone records. It appears Papa Joe’s research into our family tree had a far different purpose than we thought. My grandfather was looking for something much more specific than our genealogy. Something you and I never imagined.”
More than expertly handling the introduction and re-appearance of various characters, Wallace is an exemplary guide who leads readers through a labyrinth of personal experiences—those of modern-day characters as well as historical figures such as the legendary Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett and William Travis—that fit like pieces of the puzzle Nat has to assemble in order to learn what his grandfather was up to.
From the beginning readers are a half-step ahead of Nat, beginning with Papa Joe’s defiant, dying words to the robbers seeking very specific information about Bowie’s treasure: “’Come and take it,’ he [had] gasped.” We witness him denying the invaders what they want, and though we as readers know more than Nat does for much of the book, owing to Wallace’s omniscient narrator format, it is a limited omniscience, and Nat comes out with a surprise or two up his own sleeve.
Owing to my unfamiliarity with much of the legend, I looked up many pieces of the historical information and found Wallace’s research and presentation to be spot on. He has woven a yarn worthy of its characters and historical background, and the manner in which he progresses, allowing us bits of information at a time via such discordant personalities is unique and genius—not to mention pulled off in a manner that can only be described as no less than consummate.
The only thing I had a hard time doing with Come and Take It was putting it down. The weaving together of so many differences, of two eras so far apart, an unfamiliar (to me) piece of my country’s history and myself—all this and more kept me turning pages because I simply had to know what happened next, including the tumultuous ending to all of this that Nat and Renee find themselves facing.
Even for those well-versed in Alamo and Texas history, this is a must read—for the flashbacks, the fleshed-out characters, the sure thing or the doubts even the “bad guys” have. This is history, mystery, politics, romance, genealogy, the re-visiting of legendary figures and those who grow up with these myths by their sides. Wallace presents the various effects this can have on those touched by all this and, in the process, touches us as we watch their struggles and victories, and once more are taken back to a piece of history that we never really left.
Landon Wallace is a native Texan and trial attorney who can tell a story both in and out of the courtroom. He lives in North Texas with his wife and family. Come and Take It is his second novel.
The reviewer received a free copy of Come and Take It in exchange for an honest review.