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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


A Grave at Glorieta: A Harrison Raines Civil War Mystery by Michael Kilian (Prime Crime) While on a mission to obtain information vital to the Union cause, U.S. secret agent Harrison Raines finds that his informant has been murdered-and his partner has been accused of the crime...Michael Kilian continues his Harrison Raines series, as the Secret Service agent and his partner Joseph Leahy journey to New Mexico to investigate reports of a rebel invasion there. Though the two agents become separated in New Mexico , they are both in close proximity to Glorieta Pass where the Union , under the command of Major Chivington, drives the Confederate forces back and burns their supply wagons.

Noting the rebels' retreat while trying to free Leahy from jail where he is accused of being a horse thief, Harry makes the acquaintance of Isabel Almaden y Cortes, daughter of Don Luis, a Union hero at Glorieta. When Don Luis is murdered at his home, Harry seeks to discover the identity of the murderer. Passions run high, as shades of gray blur lines of loyalty, and someone seems to be searching for the gold that Harry discovered abandoned near the bodies of a man and woman.

Gripping and intense, the pace of this novel increases in speed as Harry and Indian friend Tatou are attacked when they unearth the grave of Don Luis near Glorieta. Inspired by the actual 1862 Battle of Glorieta Pass, this novel brings into focus a clear picture of the division of familial loyalties and subterfuge that were so much a vital part of the U.S. Civil War.

The Bastard's Tale by Margaret Frazer (Prime Crime) In Margaret Frazer's eagerly-awaited latest medieval mystery, the devout yet human nun Dame Frevisse, with her "common sense and humor" (Sharon Kay Penman), finds herself in the lavish world of England's royal court and high politics. There she learns that even the thickest of walls cannot keep out a threat against the royal family.

Medieval sleuth Dame Frevisse is back to tackle her twelfth mystery. The year is 1447. Parliament is about to begin its session in Bury St. Edmonds, an event that brings the most powerful men of England together as they strut, posture and vie for favor. As would be expected in a gathering of politically driven personalities, egos and ambitions clash. A rumor is set afoot that the Duke of Gloucester plans to arrive with a throng of men to overthrow his nephew, King Henry. Where the rumor started is anybody's guess, but many are betting that the individual responsible is Suffolk , a bitter rival and hateful conniver. The beloved Frevisse of St. Frideswide's nunnery travels to Bury St. Edmonds with a mission --- to act as the eyes and ears for Bishop Beaufort of Winchester . In her attempts to mingle and listen, she encounters an old friend, the all-too clever Master Joliffe Noreys, as he rehearses for a play. Although she is quite happy to see him, she wonders about his allegiances. He seems a bit too oily to fully trust. Is his name really Joliffe and who does he work for? Then a lucky meeting with Bishop Pecock, a scholar and dry wit, wins her another welcome friend.

While tensions mount, word ripples through Bury St. Edmonds that the Duke of Gloucester has been arrested for treason. Frevisse, more than mildly skeptical, wonders who set him up and why. Could the rancorous gossip about him be coming from Suffolk and his cronies, or maybe Dorset , or even York ? Fortunately, Gloucester 's illegitimate son Arteys eludes his father's accusers and falls into the care of wry Bishop Pecock, Master Noreys and Frevisse, who have joined out of necessity to form an investigative team to aid the duke, if possible.

Despite her life's chosen work as a nun, Dame Frevisse does not come across as all sweetness and light --- she's very human too. Her courage, coupled with her stalwart sense of good, averts many disasters and rights many wrongs. In the course of conversations, she delivers some philosophical insights with both religious and lay undertones. And, in the end, she delivers a satisfying conclusion.

The Bastard's Tale is an engaging story, despite its slow pace. It is pleasantly peppered with medieval details and historical side trips that give us a glimpse into life in 15th century England . Most of the action comes in the latter half, allowing the reader time to savor Ms. Frazer's storytelling talents. And there is enough action to keep you turning the pages once it reaches speed. I don't know if this will be a favorite in the series (not having read any of the others) but it is sure to be a hit with loyal fans.

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