Ulysses S. Grant, victorious general of the American Civil War has returned to his hometown of Georgetown, Ohio. With Andrew Johnson apparently struggling in the White House following Lincoln’s assassination, people are looking to Grant to stand for the Presidency. But when a man is found in Grant’s hotel room with a bullet wound in his head and Confederate money in his wallet, it looks like there are still people for whom the war isn’t over…
First off, an apology. Someone recommended this book to me on my blog, and I can’t remember for the life of me who it was, or find the recommendation. It seemed an ideal candidate for a number of my 2012 Challenges – a new state, a new author and a historical novel. So, did it live up to the recommendation?
A question first though – does it say something about me that the first time I went to read the book, I stopped because I didn’t like the font? I don’t know the exact typeset, but it looks like it was typed on an old style typewriter. I wonder, was that deliberate?
Anyway, second time around, I got used to it very quickly – indeed, I stopped noticing any difference after a while. I still found it a little hard to get into, but I’m pretty sure that’s partly my fault. You see, I know about as much about the American Civil War as penguins know about space-walks. That’s the reason I enjoy historical mysteries so much, learning about new periods, but I think that I know so little, a number of early references went right over my head – Appomottax for example, which sounds to me like a weight loss drug, but is, in fact, where the North accepted the surrender of the South.
As the book progressed, I warmed to it more, and it turned out to be a very enjoyable read. Grant is an interesting choice for a lead, not so much a detective – he has at least two colleagues to do the detecting for him, but a reluctant hero. The support is fine, even if his wife seems to suffer some serious mood swings. As for the plot…
Now it’s very hard to discuss the plot without giving important spoilers away, but I’ll try. The murderer is fairly clued – indeed, one clue is repeated ad nauseum and once you spot it, you’ll keep spotting it. It’s a bit like the film, The Prestige. I twigged the twist very early on in the film, and when you know it, the dialogue seems to be bashing you over the head with clues as to the secret. However, there is still a twist in the tail, but it is a bit of a silly one. It’s a brave decision to have one historical character as a lead, but… sorry, can’t finish that sentence. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Also, the villain’s master plan is exactly that – a master plan. Like the sort of super-villain master plan that doesn’t involve shooting Spider-Man in the head at the first available opportunity. It’s very much a “that would have been too easy” plan. At least Grant comments on the relative stupidity of it…
And a final niggle – Grant doesn’t actually solve the crime. He works out who the killer is because the killer is the person at the other end of the gun pointing at his head. Great sleuthing! But the clues are there for the reader.
OK, that’s three strikes, but I can’t bring myself to dislike the book. I read it in less than a day, not because it’s short, but I couldn’t put it down. I half-solved it as well, which is always a plus point for me. Yes, the ending’s a little silly for a historical mystery that had played things pretty straight up to that point, and it seems to be setting things up for a sequel. And now I’ve learned a lot more about the American Civil War – and I’m sure I’ll learn more when I read Under Investigation, a collection of ten short stories that precede the events of this one.
So, all in all, a really enjoyable read. Recommended.