Murder at Manassas: A Harrison Raines Civil War Mystery

Written by Michael Kilian
Review by John R. Vallely

The author, a longtime Washington correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, puts his passion for American history and his impressive knowledge of Washington’s social and political past to use in his opening volume of a series featuring Harrison Greenville Raines.

Raines is an itinerant Virginia-born horse trader and gambler caught in the capitol city as the nation is torn apart by rebellion. Anti-slavery and pro-Union in outlook, Raines wants nothing more than to remain neutral in a conflict he fears will destroy the world he knows. His unreturned love for an actress leads him to the Battle of Bull Run and an encounter with murder as the Union Army dissolves in chaotic retreat.

The reader accompanies Raines on journeys to Confederate Virginia, the brothels and prisons of wartime Washington, Federal military camps, and into the Lincoln White House. Along the way, Civil War personalities as diverse as Abraham Lincoln, the detective Alan Pinkerton, the elusive John Wilkes Booth, the Confederate agent Belle Boyd, and a host of lesser characters assist and obstruct the Virginian in his dogged pursuit of justice for a dead Union officer.

Historical novelists face a definite challenge in both telling an engaging story while simultaneously conveying a convincing “feel” for the time frame and the people who inhabit it. The detective writer must also craft an intricate crime tale. Not an easy task. Kilian by and large succeeds on all three levels. While some may consider the author has gone overboard in exposing the reader to an overly long list of the well-known and famous in the Washington of 1861, he deserves praise for illustrating the complexities of life in a time of turmoil and war. An enjoyable and entertaining beginning to Mr. Raines’ career in Civil War America.