Echoing The Red Badge of Courage, Treasure Island and Morte D'Arthur, this tenderly rendered first novel, which takes the form of a manuscript ""discovered in the archives of the Rockingham County courthouse in Harrisonburg, VA,"" irresistibly combines the classic motifs of Civil War, buried treasure and romantic heroism. With money running out and her husband gone to fight under General Lee during the final winter of the Civil War, 15-year-old Jamie Lockhart's mother is forced to take an ominous-looking boarder into their war-ravaged home in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Jamie is driven to kill the blackguard to save his mother from rape, and in the dead man's belongings they find a crude, encrypted map marking ""the Mouth of the Devil"" as the site of buried gold. On his way to consult a distant tavern owner about the map's legend, Jamie is saved from a thieving, gargantuan deserter by Major de Monfort, a one-armed, knife-throwing Cajun. Six of the giant's cronies pursue Jamie, but he insists on going behind Yankee lines to find the treasure; the Major leaves him, advising the boy to commit the map to memory and destroy it. Seized by the renegade gang, Jamie escapes with Katharine Dandridge, the feisty daughter of an elderly plantation owner murdered by the thugs. Hounded through raging storms by the murderous band, the pair finally reunite with de Monfort, and the trio trudges on in search of the gold. Told by young Jamie, Mrazek's story possesses a compelling narrative drive. His sense of landscape is expert and his cast of heroes and villains is complete, down to a horse, Jamie's Jupiter. Mrazek's exceptional coming-of-age tale will equally delight young adult and adult readers. Author tour. (Jan.) FYI: When Mrazek served in the U.S. Congress, he coauthored the bill to prevent the Manassas Civil War Battlefield from becoming a shopping center.