Murder at Manassas

Michael Kilian, Author Berkley Publishing Group $21.95 (306p) ISBN 978-0-425-17233-9
The first battle of the Civil War provides background and theme for this debut novel in a projected series that will combine mystery with the history of the period. Southern-bred gambler and horse trader Harrison Raines provides reluctant escort for an actress friend from Washington who wishes to observe the fighting at Manassas. Instead of the quick, decisive Union victory expected, however, there comes a panicky retreat, then rout, of federal forces. As the escaping troops overtake the observers, Harry watches a yellow-haired officer valiantly try to stem the retreat and rally the soldiers. Later he learns that the same officer has been slain and is being branded a coward who led the retreat. The convolutions of the plot, as Harry's efforts are enlisted, preempted and resisted by various interests concerned with the officer's death, allow Kilian to introduce a slew of historical figures from Clara Barton to Abraham Lincoln. Some, like Allan Pinkerton, play large roles; others, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, make cameo appearances. The plot strains as it navigates some very strange turns, and the narrative never seems to find a pace it's comfortable with. Perhaps like the federal troops who wilted in the first combat, Kilian will rally to more valiant efforts in future battles. Meanwhile, Ann McMillan's Civil War series (Angel Trumpet, etc.) remains a better bet for those who like their mysteries colored in blue and grey. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/03/2000
Release date: 01/01/2000
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