The darkly comic opening scene of this novel, the fourth in a series set during the US Civil War, features Major Abel Jones, a basket of eels, and a corpse. In June of 1862, the war in its second year, casualties on both sides are mounting, and now there is the threat that Great Britain will join forces with the Confederacy. Jones, in London at the behest of US ambassador Charles Francis Adams, is investigating the murder of an American agent assigned to uncover details of a warship presumed to have been commissioned by the Confederacy and built in England. Clearly, the party or parties involved do not want to be found out, as there are two previous murders tied to the same case.
Complicating the issues at hand, Jones finds his own past coming back to haunt him in a particularly gruesome fashion. This sets him on the trail of what he assumes is a completely unrelated set of circumstances, involving some sordid love letters and an old adversary. Figuring out how the two trails intersect turns out to be a potentially deadly undertaking.
Literary wit, combined with sharp, idiomatic dialogue and an emphasis on historical details are Parry’s tools as he weaves a tale that spans the English countryside, from the slums of London and Glasgow to the fine homes of the British upper classes. The urgency of Jones’ investigation in combination with the revelations about his past generates the requisite tension and suspense necessary to sustain any good mystery. The humanity of his characters, both fictional and historical, is what makes this novel stand apart.