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    MURDER AT MANASSAS by Michael Kilian


    Berkley Prime Crime, 2000

    Harrison Raines is caught between Virginia, which he thinks of as his country and his abhorrance of slavery. When actress Caitlin Howard, the great love of his life, demands that he take her to see the battle that may end the revolt (the First Battle of Manassas or First Battle of Bull Run), he reluctantly agrees knowing he will lose no matter which side wins. At the battle, he spots a Union Major tries to rally his retreating troops. A short time later, Raines finds the Major shot dead--well beyond the range of Rebel forces.

    When the Major's family hires Raines to solve the mystery and clear the Major's name, Raines begins to dig. Rumors of spies, assassins, and Rebel raids rip through Washington. Raines and Caitlin Howard's girlfriend Louise both become suspects. When Raines discovers evidence of sales of army shoes to the South, Raines too becomes a target.

    Michael Kilian (see more reviews of novels by Kilian) presents a wholly believable picture of Lincoln's Washington D. C. in its moment of panic. His historical research complements the story rather than (as is sometimes the case in historical mysteries) detracting from it. The prominent role played by John Wilkes Booth (Raines' rival for Caitlin's attentions) also enhances the novel.

    If historical credibility is the great strength of MURDER AT MANASSAS, the characters are its weakness. Raines' conflict between State and Union is sympathetic, but his feelings for Caitlin, who treats him poorly and uses him unmercifully, is not. Other than Raines himself, none of the characters are fully developed or motivated. While a greater attention to character would have made the mystery more enjoyable, MURDER AT MANASSAS remains a most satisfactory novel.

    Two Stars

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