A Killing at Ball’s Bluff: A Harrison Raines Civil War Mystery
Ball’s Bluff was a relatively insignificant affair when compared with the carnage at Shiloh, Antietam, and Gettysburg. Civil War historians and enthusiasts know it chiefly as the battle in which Abraham Lincoln’s good friend, Senator Edward Baker, was killed in action leading a doomed Union force. This defeat spurred the creation of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War by Congress and this politically active group would grow to play an increasingly powerful role in Federal decision-making. Michael Kilian, a student of the Civil War and the author of the well-received Murder at Manassas, uses Ball’s Bluff as the setting for his second Harrison Raines novel.
Raines, a Virginian whose allegiance lies with the United States and not with the rebellion, is a Washington gambler and horse trader who was enlisted in the Union secret service by Allan Pinkerton. The devious Pinkerton coerces Raines to try and protect Senator Baker. When he can not prevent his death (or murder?) at Ball’s Bluff, Raines must use all of his guile and intelligence to free himself from suspicion as the killer. On the way to solving the riddle of Baker’s death, Raines must deal with Confederate sympathizers in the North, go undercover behind rebel lines in Virginia, and simultaneously try to win the heart of a woman who loves John Wilkes Booth. Kilian does his usual workmanlike job of integrating fictional and historical characters with fictional and real events. He has a “feel” for the time period and is at ease in painting pictures of urban and rural life in 1860s America. While I would suggest reading Murder at Manassas first, this mystery can stand alone. This looks like a very fine series. Essential for Civil War fans.