A “novel of historical suspense” wanders pleasantly through its plot: a mystery involving the slaughter of 40 escaped slaves between Civil War battle lines, and one man’s attempt to find the killers.
Called to service by the Lincoln administration, Abel Jones sets out for a sit-down with General Grant just after the battle of Shiloh—and Parry’s opening scenes, with Jones finding himself caught in the chaos of battle, make a brisk start. Jones first depicts the dreadful deaths and the gore of combat, then moves on to speak to Grant and his good friend Sherman. After his interviews, he discovers that 40 slaves were recently found butchered, and that Lincoln wants the responsible parties brought to justice—regardless of which side they’re on. Jones’s job is to persuade the Confederates, represented here by General Beauregard, that solving the case is in their interest as well. He crosses lines and, after a brief scrap, succeeds in enlisting the help of the dashing young Raines, a Confederate officer who escorts Jones to the scene of the crime. Parry’s knowledge of the era is nicely on display here: his scenes of Corinth, Mississippi, and its sheltered wounded are vibrant, with a haunting eye for detail. Eventually, Jones and Raines are joined by Barnaby, Raines’s trusted sidekick, and the three ride to the home of the murdered slaves’ owner, the legless veteran Barclay. After untangling some vicious slave-abuse issues, and after Raines makes peace with his boyhood rival Barclay, Jones meets the slave leader, Mr. Hitchens, and through a bit of deduction comes to understand that the deaths were the work of a Union religious fanatic. The story climaxes in a firelit bloodbath.
The Virginia-based Parry (Shadows of Glory, 2000, etc.) takes his time with a fairly simple story, but the telling is well informed and evocatively written—particularly the wry, morally upright observations of the Welshman Jones, who predictably concludes that war makes animals of us all.