Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I don't normally share lines or verses from books, but this one is simply too great to pass up, as a character describes his Colt pistol:
"The Colt is the finest machine I have ever seen in my life. It does one thing, and it does it superbly well.
Imagine I take one of those cartridges there, from the box. I'm not going to, but imagine I did. It's a tiny thing. It's made from four separate parts. There's the case, the brass case that makes up most of its length. At one end, the back of the case, is the percussion cap, a small disc of copper with a little fulminate of mercury inside. At the other is the bullet itself, a tiny cone of lead weighing so very little. Inside the case is the gunpowder.
Imagine I took this cartridge, and lifted back the gate on the back of the cylinder here. It slides into one of the six chambers, a perfect fit. Everything measured and made to perfection. I pull back the hammer on the back of the gun, just halfway at first, so I can rotate the cylinder into place. Now the cartridge we loaded is sitting directly under the firing pin, on the underside of the hammer.
When the hammer hits the percussion cap, the fulminate of mercury explodes, for it cannot tolerate being struck. Once the cap explodes, it sets fire to the gunpowder inside the case, and instantly the temperature inside the case rises to a couple thousand degrees, as hot as the smelting works at the mine, but all inside that tiny brass case...
[T]he brass case, being so hot, there and then expands, and swells to press against the inside of the chamber, and so now it released its grip on the lead bullet...inside that barrel is a series of three grooves, set out in a spiral down its length. The bullet, which is lead, and with the hellfire of that explosion behind it, is now both hot and soft. It's forced into those spirals. They bite into it, so that as it makes its way down the barrel, it spins. It spins and spins, and by the time it leaves the barrel, with the last of the gas pushing out behind it, it's not only spinning faster than Rumpelstiltskin, it's moving at over a thousand feet per second, which means that the bullet has hit whatever the barrel was pointing at before the bang has even left your ears."
This is a relatively short read about a family mystery, about gold hunting in the snowy north, about the valuable things a family can teach you, and about loyalty until the end. The few flaws this book has are far, far outweighed by some really beautiful writing and a story that mostly kept me on my toes from start to finish.
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