A Single Spark

Written by Judith Miller
Review by Gail M. Murray

In 1862, the early days of the American Civil War, Clara McBride works at the Washington Arsenal. Lieutenant Joseph Brady, a Union officer wounded at Bull Run, is her immediate supervisor. A spark between them grows into a sweet romance. A literal spark at the arsenal, however, could cause death.

In WWII, many women, known as Bomb Girls, worked in defense plants. During the Civil War, while men fought on the front lines, women filled positions in arsenal laboratories where ammunition was produced, working long shifts completing tedious and dangerous work. Only girls with their small hands were hired for the cartridge room. In fact, an explosion at the Allegheny Arsenal in Pennsylvania caused 78 deaths – the greatest civilian disaster of the war.

Joseph, dispatched to the Allegheny Arsenal to discover why they are so productive, is present for this explosion. He returns vowing to enact new safety protocols. What no one had counted on was sabotage. Joseph is proud, determined to be of value in this war. Although suffering from his war wound, he hides his pain.

Southerners Beatrice and Jeremiah Hodson are newly hired at the factory. From the outset I found Beatrice aggressive and overbearing in her efforts to become friends with the kind and gentle Clara. As well as beauty, Clara has a gentle and giving spirit and is easily duped by the unscrupulous Beatrice.

Given the serious topic, I found this a light read, almost domestic with repetitious passages about the daily grind at the laboratory and the absence of big dramatic battles, except for Joseph’s horrific nightmares of Bull Run. The sabotage of the arsenal drives the plot. Can Joseph keep them safe? Will these spies/saboteurs be discovered and routed out?