In the British Army, the Scarlet Sash is the insignia of the Provost Marshal, a glorified policeman. In this case, the PM is Ensign Sebastian Early. He begins to investigate an officer’s death. The body was found in a room, locked from the inside, with two fatal gunshot wounds to his chest. His own gun, a rifle, was found near his body. Since there was no way for an assailant to escape the room, the death was ruled a suicide. However, Seb is puzzled by the fact that it would have been physically impossible to shoot oneself fatally, twice, with a rifle and leave no powder burns on the body. It is January, 1879, the beginning of the Zulu wars. Seb’s investigation takes him to Lord Chelmsford’s camp at Isandlwana. Major Reynolds, the surgeon who’d signed the death certificate, is now at the hospital station at Rorke’s Drift, so Seb goes there to question him. The Zulu army attacks Isandlwana shortly after Seb and his assistants leave the camp. It is a horrible massacre; almost 1,500 British soldiers are killed. Seb arrives at Rorke’s Drift to find approximately 116 soldiers there preparing for an attack from 4,000 Zulus. Seb and his assistant join the defenders of Rorke’s Drift. After that historic victory, Reynold’s confirms Seb’s suspicions that the officer was murdered, and his investigation continues to an unusual, surprising conclusion.
Mr. Kilworth has an interesting way of mixing historical fact with fiction. The mystery is well concocted, and it holds the reader’s interest. The blending of the Zulu War with the developing mystery sets a fast pace.