The tension arising between the North and South in the years before the American Civil War was intensified by John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859. This dramatic event and Southern reaction to it are the backdrop for Chandler Tedholm’s thrilling and thoughtful novel, Irrepressible Conflict.
Protagonist Byron Giles is a disabled veteran of the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-48, now an attorney living in Richmond, Virginia. He has been called in to investigate rumors of a plot to incite a slave rebellion on the same day a beautiful and elegant black woman is found dead in a canal. A connection between the two crimes is suggested as the characters bear up under all the roadblocks and subterfuge they must deal with in a racist, paranoid time.
All this is skillfully told and moving, dotted with walk-ons by such celebrated persons as Frederick Douglass, Robert E. Lee, J. E. B. Stuart, and John Brown himself. Tedholm has the events of the story down pat and moreover accurately reports the response of the press and the people. The characters are gently and expressively rendered, with just enough mystery in their own stories to make them tantalizing. This careful account of a nation about to explode into war shows the efforts either to prevent or to spark violence by both the calculating and well meaning on both sides. This is the sort of historical fiction that humanizes history. (Kindle edition — ed.)