During the critical Civil War battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg in 1863, a fictional Union Army regiment is plagued by a mysterious killer.
Two years into the Civil War in the spring of 1863, the Union Army, despite suffering numerous defeats at the hands of Robert E. Lee and his Confederate troops, is still spoiling for another fight. During the Chancellorsville campaign, however, a lone-wolf killer begins preying on men in one particular regiment when they wander away from camp. Now, as the army prepares for the climactic battle of Gettysburg, 2nd Lieut. Rhys and a troubled doctor named Morse join forces to find the killer before rebel bullets find them. Yocum’s (Daniel, 2009) second novel moves along briskly, divided between daily army life and the killings. Yocum obviously knows the terrain; the story is impressively authentic in its depiction of Civil War life, and even the characters’ language is realistic, e.g., “skedaddle” as a synonym for desertion. The soldiers speak in the imperfect English of uneducated farm boys, which many Civil War soldiers were. With the main-character list short but vividly drawn, readers become intimately familiar with the soldiers. An especially nice touch is the soldiers’ incredulity at the notion of a serial killer—familiar today but rare then—in their ranks, slitting men’s throats when they’re away from their comrades. There are frightening moments of suspense, as when someone who may be the killer visits both Rhys and Morse, and when soldiers looking for a secluded place to relieve themselves hear mysterious footsteps trailing behind them. Yet the novel’s conclusion, in which several main characters are rather abruptly and offhandedly discarded, doesn’t live up to the beginning. After investing in the soldiers’ lives throughout the book, readers will likely think the men deserve a more satisfying finale.
A chilling, novel premise that just misses the mark.