UNHOLY FIRE by Robert J. Mrazek


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A Civil War whodunit by former US congressman and second-novelist Mrazek (Stonewall’s Gold, 1999) describes a combat veteran’s 1863 quest for a prostitute’s murderer.

John “Kit” McKittredge is a Harvard senior when the Civil War breaks out, and he enlists with patriotic fervor. Commissioned as a lieutenant, Kit sees action early, leading a platoon at Ball’s Bluff. Wounded in the stomach, Kit is soused with laudanum by doctors who (lacking antibiotics) fully expect him to die within days. Incredibly, he survives, though not without gaining a solid addiction. In recognition of his valor, the army offers him a noncombatant post, assigning him to the Provost Marshall’s office, responsible for investigating crimes and corruption. There’s plenty of both, for the unprecedented war budget has brought every species of swindler, embezzler, and common thief to Washington, D.C., along with more whores than Baptists and a government staffed by cutthroat opportunists who could make Machiavelli blush. On his first assignment, investigating war profiteers who supplied defective artillery to the army, Kit is bluntly warned (first by a mysterious stranger, then by a congressman) not to dig too deep if he knows what’s good for him. Undeterred, he presses on but is soon diverted by the murder of an unknown woman last seen publicly at the birthday party of the notoriously debauched General Hooker (his name already synonymous with prostitution). As Kit looks into case, he finds that the victim (a prostitute named Anya Hagel) had a number of unsettling connections to some very prominent members of the government. He also finds that General Hooker has taken an interest in Kit’s career, inviting him to join his staff and introducing him to prominent military and political figures. If this is the carrot, what is the stick? Well, there’s the inconvenient matter of Kit’s opium addiction—and his bad luck in falling in love with Amelie, a prostitute who used to work with Anya.

Tautly gripping, with vividly malevolent characters and some excellent historical color.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-312-30673-3
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2003


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