The Black Hills (A Grand & Batchelor Victorian Mystery)

Written by M.J. Trow
Review by Viviane Crystal

George Armstrong Custer was famous for his service during the War Between the States, that is, the Civil War. But he is definitely unloved. At one point during this novel, it is revealed that he accused Secretary of War William Belknap of corruption: of giving substandard breech-loaders to soldiers while providing Native American fighters with brand new Springfield rifles. Then under President Grant’s rule, Custer accuses Grant’s brother of fraudulent acts. That comment is unforgivable in the eyes of many. Now, in March 1875, this has grown into a mystery; someone is obviously out for revenge.

Several acts occur where men die or are injured, men who were sitting or standing close to Custer. Private enquiry agents have traveled to Fort Abraham Lincoln deep in Dakota Territory, in what’s known as the Black Hills, home of the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes. These two agents have also discovered that the President may have had something to do with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. They bring that proof to the President, who recovers Custer’s army rank, lost when he accused Grant’s brother of fraud, but issues a request for Custer’s downfall.

Although the mystery is solved, that’s not what is so fascinating about this story. Custer and his wife reign over the army base, and their words are commands. We also get a comprehensive depiction of what it was like living in the Black Hills, including the lives of the women living at the Army base, the hunting and drinking activities of common soldiers, the penalties for breaking rules or desertion, and the belief in justice and fairness for soldiers and civilians. It’s a great adventurous romp and a recommended historical fiction read.