It is June, 1862, and war has come to Richmond Virginia. Under siege by General McClellans surrounding Union troops, the residents face shortages, deaths, and looming fears of destruction. Betrayals abound as well; not everyone wants the South to win.
Strong characters with diverse and often conflicting views drive McMillans plot. There is the wealthy abolitionist who plans to use a revealing letter, stolen from the home of Jefferson Davis, to pressure President Lincoln into freeing the slaves. There are freed slaves, escaping slaves, a slightly crazed mother grieving for her son and husband killed in battle, an English journalist, a suspicious Confederate lieutenant on the lookout for spies, a genial young doctor, and the citizenry pressed into service to tend the broken bodies carried from the hell erupting from the fields of Virginia.
The primary protagonists, however, are a nurse, Narcissa Powers, and free black, Judah Daniel, who join forces to search for a mysteriously missing Confederate soldier and the mother of an abandoned infant. Unfortunately these mysteries lack focus and suspense; too often the story line gets lost in the complicated plot and narrations of the multiple characters. Its better to read Chickahominy Fever for its insight into Civil War battles, the appalling lack of sanitation and rough surgical techniques employed in the hospitals, and the devastating effects of diseases, such as Chickahominy Fever, or malaria. And, above all, for the effects of siege on the lives of Richmonders in this stressful, soul searching time.
This is Ann McMillans fourth Civil War mystery featuring Narcissa Powers and Judah Daniel. Her afterward gives us information about the historical characters and sites used in the story, as well as her ambivalence as to who was traitor and who a hero.
Civil War buffs might also enjoy Ann Perrys book Slaves of Obsession, featuring investigator William Monk and his wife Hester, a nurse who had worked alongside Florence Nightingale in the Crimea. Perry gives us views on the war from Britain and on its flourishing gun dealing trade. As well there is a great description of Washington D.C. as it mobilizes for war, and of the battle of Bull Run.