The fifth title in the Ike Schwartz series finds the erstwhile sheriff of Picketville, Virginia, with a murder on his hands that has its roots in a Civil War-era mystery.
In the days before train travel, homeowners near stagecoach stops would rent out rooms in their homes to rich travelers for whom the local inn or pub couldn’t provide adequate accommodations. These rooms, usually unconnected to the main house, and with their own entrance, were called “stranger rooms.” During the Civil War, a traveler was murdered in the stranger room at the Jonathan Lydell residence; the case was never solved.
Fast forward to today: the house’s current owner, Jonathan Lydell IV, is proud of his family and his home’s heritage, to the point of restoring it exactly as it was 150 years ago. When a visitor turns up dead in the stranger room, with the same lack of clues, Ike has to figure out whether the two murders are related, or just coincidental bad luck for the Lydell family. Accompanying Ike is Karl Hedrick, an African-American FBI officer “on loan” to the sheriff’s department. Karl’s perspective as an outsider provides some additional light on the local situation. This fast-paced tale is well-told, though it is a bit overrun with eccentric characters who at times distract from the plot. Overall, there’s enough Civil War history (and guns, and politics) to keep buffs intrigued, and not too much to be overwhelming to a reader who’s just passing through.