Public TV worthy and sometime novelist Lehrer (The Special Prisoner, 2000, etc.) invents and solves a crime committed at the battle of Antietam.
Bureaucrats and Civil War reenactors are at the faintly beating heart of a story that cuts back and forth soberly between the diary of a Union sergeant and the workdays of a—there is no other way to put this—geeky (six foot eight, unpleasantly thin, and girlfriend-less for decades) government archaeologist trying to put a name on a newly discovered skeleton near Sharpsburg and Antietam Creek in Maryland, scene of one of the war’s most vicious and devastating battles. Don Spaniel, the government’s man of science, is on the scene as dirt is brushed away from the bones in an unmarked grave, revealing various oddities. For one thing, the soldier is face down. And he seems to have been shot through the back of the skull, perhaps by the Colt revolver that set off the metal detector wielded by the skeleton’s discoverer. And maybe his hands were bound. Was he executed by the Rebs? Dr. Spaniel is able to draw on the many experts he’s come to know in his National Park Service tenure, and clue by clue, expert by expert, he gradually learns that the bones once belonged to Kenneth Allbritten, an officer in the Eleventh Connecticut Volunteer Regiment, an outfit ordered by the criminally stupid Union General Ambrose Burnside to take and cross a stone bridge over Antietam Creek, exposing the men to murderous gunfire from the well-entrenched rebel forces on the opposite bank. Lehrer lets us know what Spaniel will learn through the diary entries of Albert Randolph, one of two chums recruited from his hometown by the valiant, perhaps too-valiant, Lieutenant Allbritten. On his way to the solution, Spaniel tries on, and is eerily possessed by, Union Army drag, visits the soldiers’ hometown, has a spooky fleeting contact with an Iowan, and sounds, in his spoken cadences, strangely like an iconic newscaster.
Overreverent and, despite a shocking ending, largely inert.