Veteran sportswriter Honig continues his new sub-career with this second historical crime novel (following The Sword of General Englund, 1996) featuring Civil War veteran Captain Thomas Maynard. Several years after the war, Maynard, now based in Washington and in trouble for having ``offended'' a loutish superior officer, is dispatched to Baddock, a remote and lawless town in the Montana Territory, for the purpose of raising a ghost. Or so it seems: A former soldier, arriving in Baddock, had reported spotting the eponymous Major, a decorated officer who perished on the battlefield and was buried with full military honors—and was subsequently himself shot to death by an unknown assailant. Was the murdered man mistaken, or did Major Pryor desert his regiment, and- -according to details Maynard uncovers piece by piece—commit more than this one murder to cover his tracks? This is only one of the mysteries into which Maynard is drawn, the other being the identity of the brains behind a gang of ``road agents'' who routinely prey on the stagecoaches linking Baddock to the outside world. Honig's double plot is seasoned with several vigorous action scenes (Maynard is, of course, a crack shot and has the requisite nerves of steel), but the story is slowed by the long conversations in which his hero repeatedly indulges—usually with a saturnine journalist, Simon Patterson, but also with a passel of indignant and bloodthirsty townsmen, any one of whom could be the elusive major. More agreeably, he spends considerable time in the arms of Theodora Diamond, a large-hearted prostitute who's the kind of woman for whom a man might be tempted to give up his commission. Both lethal puzzles are satisfactorily solved, the primary one through Maynard's deciphering of a cleverly planted verbal clue, and he returns to Washington, mission accomplished. A shade less well turned than its predecessor, if only because it's so talky, but effective (if unexceptional) entertainment nonetheless.
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