Friday, March 1, 2013

Book Review: Antietam Assassins by Michael Kilian (Harrison Raines Civil War Mysteries #6)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Characters who make the events of the story seem real
Cons: Battle of Antietam Creek slows down the story
The Bottom Line:
Civil War buffs will
Fictional look at famous
Battle with murder

The Civil War Hits Close to Home

It is August 1862, and Army scout and spy Harrison Raines has decided the Civil War is over, at least for him. Returning from a long trip to the West, Harry wants nothing more then to settle into a boring routine raising and trading horses on his farm in the western part of Virginia.

Unfortunately, that is not to be. The morning after his return, Harry finds the local minister hanging from the tree. Oddly enough, he had been shot and was already dead before he was hanged. Also curious is the note found pinned to his shirt accusing him of being a Lincoln man. Reverend Ashby was quite vocal from his pulpit in his support of the Confederacy. So, what's really going on?

Intending to put this behind him, Harrison ventures into Washington DC to return some gold and offer his resignation to his boss, Allan Pinkerton. Because General Lee is marching toward Antietam, near Harry's farm, Pinkerton traps Harry into staying in the secret service so he can scout the area he knows so well. Since General McClelland's forces so far outnumber the Confederates, this should be an easy victory and could end the war. If only he'd actually move.

Meanwhile, the trouble over Reverend Ashby's death is only beginning. If Harrison survives the upcoming battle, he's going to have quite a mess on his hands.

These books are always a mixed bag for me. I love the historical detail and context each book brings. The government, press, army, and so on from 140 years ago sounds remarkably just like today. How little things have changed. I love history, and feel I have learned some about this particular battle of the Civil War that I did not remember hearing about before. The mystery is well done as well. I had no clue what was happening until the end.

The problem is the middle. Once again, the battle takes up quite a bit of space in the book. While parts of it were interesting, it serves to slow the story down in the long run. I was quite ready to move on by the time the story started advancing again. Those who enjoy historical fiction will enjoy the detail while those reading this book for the story will get bored.

On the plus side, because Harry has returned to his home turf, we get to see many secondary characters who have been noticeably absent in the last two books. Former sidekick "Boston" Learhy is reduced to a cameo in favor of new sidekick Jack Tantou. While I like Jack, I would have liked to see more of Boston as well. New or old, these characters are real people who help draw you into the story and keep you coming back to find out what will happen next. Their pain at the events unfolding around them helps make the history very real to the modern audience.

Besides the generals, several other real people wander through the pages of the story. While the idea that one man would know so many people on both sides isn't likely, it does make for a remarkably fun read.

The writing style of this book stays true to the others. It's adequate to get the story across but nothing special.

This series will mostly appeal to Civil War fans with historical mystery fans enjoying it as well.  If that's you, I recommend Antietam Assassins, but only after you've read the Harrison Raines Civil War Mysteries in order.

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