I am a lover of almost all types of mysteries, but never before have I read a mystery that takes place during the Civil War. Owen Parry has filled this void with Faded Coat of Blue. This is a delightfully charming book that doesn't gloss over the dark side of war.
Abolitionist and Army Captain Anthony Fowler is found murdered on the edge of an army encampment near Washington DC in the early days of the war. General George McClellan chooses unsuspecting clerk, Captain Abel Jones, to investigate the murder. Jones is a transplanted Welshman who has already seen warfare in India as part of the Queen's army. Coming to the US for a better life, he finds himself pulled into the Civil War. Jones can best be described as a plodder. He is not a brilliant man, but a loyal, fair and deliberate one. He has strong Christian values and tries to live his life by them. Jones latches on to this murder inquiry and refuses to let up-even when he discovers the disturbing truth, his life is threatened and his superiors call him off the case.
Parry is a master at making us feel that we are living during the 1860's. He fills his book with enough historical fact to be convincing, and has thoroughly researched such topics as The Civil War, the military, immigration, prostitution, disease, food, clothing and general conditions at this point in time. One of the best parts in this book is a conversation that takes place between Abel Jones and Abraham Lincoln. Although such a conversation is totally fictional, Parry has enough knowledge of Lincoln to write a dialogue that could have actually passed from Lincoln's lips.
But what makes this such a charming and delightful book is Jones himself. Written in the first person, Jones speaks with the rich and lyrical language of a man from Wales. I will admit that it took me a chapter or two to grow accustomed to this style of speech. But once I did, I was smitten. Jones is also a keen observer of human nature, and some of his observations are priceless. A few that caught my eye include:
"War disappoints long before it kills."
"The wickedest place in hell should be reserved for those who paint war in glory and cause young men to dream of it."
"There is too much puffery and pretense in a novel for me. It is very much a lady's province, and I always suspect the men who write the things of unsound habits."
Abel Jones is sometimes a little too rigid and self-deprecating to a fault. But he is an endearing character, nonetheless.
Faded Coat of Blue is a book that I hated to see end. But the good news is that Parry is making the exploits of Abel Jones into a series, and Call Each River Jordan, Shadows of Glory and Honor's Kingdom have already been published. They have definitely been added to my reading list.