"The Deerfield Massacre" is a mostly absorbing, deeply researched book that spans about 300 pages, but its most potent words may be this unassuming quartet: "Pocumtuck (later renamed Deerfield)."

Those four words say a mouthful. Deerfield was a town that, because it was on the western edge of American civilization in the 1700s, was repeatedly attacked by Native people, including a violent 1704 siege eventually dubbed the "Deerfield Massacre." What the words "Pocumtuck (later renamed Deerfield)" remind us is that many, if not most, of the attackers regarded the renamed village as ancestral land that had been stolen from them.

James L. Swanson's book acknowledges there are multiple ways to view the "massacre," which is further complicated by the attack being a joint venture of Natives and the French, who had their own reasons for confronting the British-allied Deerfield villagers. Early chapters recount the attack, captives' subsequent forced march to Canada and survivor John Williams' years-long attempt to reunite his surviving family — including a daughter, Eunice, who was kidnapped at 7, but spent her remaining eight decades in Canada.

Swanson — whose other books of popular history include the spellbinding "Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer" — takes a you-are-there approach to the attack, capturing details such as the Williams family's efforts to protect themselves (their hacked-up door is still on display in a Deerfield museum) and their horror as they watched the murders of several family members. He's equally good on the aftermath, as Williams, a minister, struggles to rebuild his life, start a second family and reassemble the first one.

That last part will be especially compelling to readers who like to imagine the story that exists just outside the bounds of a history book. Swanson acknowledges that, although John Williams and others insisted on referring to Eunice as a "captive," she quickly rejected that notion, eventually marrying a Native man, creating her own family and forgetting how to speak English.

The details have been lost to history, but it's fascinating to ponder Eunice's life. It's certainly not hard to imagine that she was able to find fulfillment away from the drudgery of being stuck in a tiny house with five siblings. Swanson indicates that Eunice was offended when she heard of her father's quick remarriage but also hints there might have been plenty of reasons for her to decide she preferred Canada.

In the final pages of "Deerfield," Swanson also is adept at contextualizing the massacre and showing how, in recent years, a greater understanding of what happened has been achieved. Native people, erased from the story for centuries, were encouraged to share their families' lore and included as part of Deerfield re-enactments and memorials. Long-accepted accounts were recognized for the one-sided and sometimes self-mythologizing "history" they were.

To get there, Swanson needs to fill us in on how Deerfield marked anniversaries of the 1704 infamy but his book bogs down in details of pageants and parade floats that told an inaccurate, infuriating half-truth, decade after decade after decade.

His book is subtitled "A Surprise Attack, a Forced March and the Fight for Survival in Early America." It's in the final pages that it becomes clear he's not just talking about white Deerfield residents when he describes that fight to survive.

The Deerfield Massacre

By: James L. Swanson.

Publisher: Scribner, 273 pages, $30.