Shifting genres with the generations, this innovative mid-19th-century America series has spiraled from murder mysteries stalked by gender and ethnic tensions in western New York into espionage thrillers exploiting the opening gambits of the fratricidal Civil War. In this installment, set during the Union’s effort to take Richmond in spring 1862, pioneering series sleuth Glynis Tryon (Must the Maiden Die?, 1999, etc.) holds the home front as her soldier nephew Seth is captured after Williamsburg; her nurse niece Kathryn battles for respect and employment; and her intelligence-agent niece Bronwen sidesteps mad Confederate assassin Simone Bleuette and cynical British spy Dorian de Warde. Bronwen’s mission to thwart a southern bid for British aid is complicated when, in the hope of flushing her out, her brother Seth is tried as a spy and sentenced to hang. In swashbuckling style, Bronwen cross-dresses to make the trip cross-country, dines with the enemy, and springs her brother before spiriting off to safety Great Britain’s tobacco investment and rescuing two more threatened males via stiletto and derringer. Would that General McClellan have been so daring and resourceful.
Monfredo’s dramatic descriptions of mud and blood, her irresistible history lessons (agents gossip about McClellan in bed during battle) and her deft knots tying in series characters past and future salvage this thriller from the risk of too much family back home. Its keen pace sweeps over a highly melodramatic villain—and an invitation to ponder the wisdom of risking a nation for a brother.