A thriller follows a family living near Richmond during the Civil War.
It’s September 1862 in this historical novel, and the Confederate and Union armies have all of Richmond on edge. Following Gen. Robert E. Lee’s advance north, a father and daughter of the Richmond gentry open their doors to care for a Southern officer badly wounded by Union foragers near Mechanicsville. Capt. John S. Holland, scion of a wealthy family allied with Jefferson Davis, took a ball in the leg that shattered his femur in two places. He convalesces in a newfangled contraption designed to spare him amputation while Anna Van Meer reads aloud to keep his spirits up. In Anna’s opinion, “Those who want the war should have it in abundance and leave the rest of us alone.” Her father hates slavery, and before the conflict broke out she assisted him in the operation of a station on the Underground Railroad. She suspects he has kept that station going all this while. After he accepts the captain, Anna wonders why her father is striving “to create the illusion they were supporters of the Southern cause,” recalling that “they’d never gone to such lengths before.” But the war closes in, and before long Anna finds herself in flight, away from the comfort she’s known and with the principal folks in her heart put to a test. Holland, for whom she’s fallen, works valiantly to protect her, though he knows himself to be “a diminished man.” Wallace (The Man Who Walked out of the Jungle, 2017, etc.) is a serious artist who never fails to attend to his audience’s needs, providing fast-moving action and characters of real depth. Though they might have come across as implausible clichés, both Anna and Holland strike the reader as complex and credible, and their early courtship (during which “his presence was like a noxious smell that rendered her life wretched”) convinces in an accomplished, fresh, and indirect style. The author understands the period well. The intricacy with which he layers his characters’ historical imaginations can only enrich any reader’s understanding of the tensions of the 1860s and the tangled hearts of men and women.
A novel of war and recovery from a consummate storyteller at the height of his powers.