A little-known 1862 battle provides the jumping-off point for Kilian’s fourth Civil War mystery (The Ironclad Alibi, 2002, etc.). Harrison Raines has been sent by his boss Allen Pinkerton, along with fellow agent Joseph “Boston” Leahy, to Mexico (now New Mexico) to evaluate the war climate. When they arrive, the Confederate army is approaching, though Union forces are still holding them at bay. Allegiances are blurry, and Harry and Leahy employ a handful of identities to smooth their progress. Meanwhile, influential landowner Luis Almaden, helped by neighbor Don Carlos Martinez, prepares for a Confederate takeover by caching his valuables. He advises his hotheaded son Roberto and his beautiful daughter Isabel to travel south to safety. But willful Isabel has her own ideas. As Almaden’s own odyssey begins with his arrest in Santa Fe, Harry splits from Leahy and falls in with a shrewd Meti Indian named Jack Tantou. Their frontier Hope/Crosby routine counterpoints Almaden’s darker pursuit by a Confederate squad led by sneering Major Pyron. (There’s also the obligatory saloon scene in which irate patrons try to oust Tantou because he’s an Indian.) Midway through the story, Harry and Tantou cross paths with Isabel, and the detective falls hard for the Mexican beauty. When Almaden and Martinez are reported murdered, Harry has ample incentive to find their killer, especially since Leahy is charged with the murders.
Long on history, short on mystery, which arrives very late in the story and never becomes its focus. The humorless, colorless prose is also no help.