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 Roaming far from the California settings of his earlier novels (With Siberia Comes a Chill, 1991; Black Dragon, 1988), Mitchell reappears with a richly historical, if far-fetched and overwrought, tale of a mad killer loose among the Union Army laying waste to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley in the last year of the Civil War. Surgeon Simon Wolfe is Sheridan's Medical Director during a scorched-earth pursuit of a dwindling yet deadly Confederate force, and he deftly manages a logistical nightmare of field hospitals and ambulances in spite of having lost an arm in an earlier engagement. His ethical standards are high, so that when he finds a woman stabbed to death in a burning house he is morally outraged. A witness, the beautiful Rebekka Zelter--belonging, like the victim, to a sect of German pacifists--accepts his care but proves unbalanced by her ordeal; while Simon is about his duties and trying to convince Sheridan to hunt the killer, she opts to strip down and join the corpses in the army morgue. When another murder takes place, Simon puts his career on the line to force an investigation. Censured by Sheridan and sent into battle, he acts heroically, but even though befriended by the Boy General Custer, he faces dismissal--until yet another corpse turns up. Focusing his suspicion on Sheridan, Simon all but takes the law into his own hands when he believes Rebekka in danger. A chance encounter with one of Mosby's Rangers, however, and a brush with death by poisoning provide proof that his witness is much more than a mere observer. Neither the heat of battles well reconstructed nor the many details of a pivotal Civil War campaign can long disguise the implausibility and confusion of this thriller run amok.

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 1994
ISBN: 0-312-10542-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1993


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