First Sentence: At first, he didn’t want to go near the window.
Matthew Grand, former U.S. Army officer, and his business partner James Batchelor, former reporter for the London Tribune, are now enquiry agents in London. When Matthew’s cousin Luther, commissions them to investigate the suspicious death of Lafayette Baker, Head of the US National Detective Police, they are off to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Knoxville in search of Baker’s killer. Among the many suspects are those very high-up in the new, post-Lincoln government.
We begin with a betrayal and a hanging. That captures one’s attention, but it’s then followed by an abrupt transition, which is a bit disconcerting. However, don’t give up. There’s a whole lot of good writing and story ahead.
One thing Trow does extremely well is to set the scene—“The door swung open and a waft of incense, sickly and powerful, hit them like a wall. A single lamp burned on a circular table and someone sat behind it, playing solitaire. His hands were smooth and supple, snaking over the Devil’s picture books with accustomed ease. His face was n darkness.” There were, however, terms one might night know, especially for items of clothing, such as a “wide awake” and an “Ulster,” but that’s part of the allure for reading historicals.
Trow has a wonderful way of treating historical figures, such as Edwin Stanton and Sojourner Truth, incorporating them seamlessly into the story while combining them with the fictional characters, such as Grand’s former fiancée and her husband. The last two enable a nice subplot, as Arlette believes her husband is trying to poison her. One does love Grand’s description of General Custer—“He remembered Autie Custer from West Point, and a one over-promoted idiot never walked God’s earth.”
Grand, the Yankee, and Batchelor are a very good, interesting team. Their strengths complement one another. Their different personalities provide some lightness to the story.
It is also interesting to see Washington, D.C. during this period. There is a lot of history here that won’t be found in history books about the politics of this country after the war, the beginning of the Klu Klux Klan and the Knights of the Golden Circle.
“The Circle” is a fascinating and very well plotted combination of mystery and post-Civil War history. It keeps one engrossed, and guessing, with an excellent building of suspense and plenty of plot twists. One really does want to know what’s next for this very interesting pair.
THE CIRCLE (Hist Myst-Grant and Batchelor-England/Washington D.C.-1868) – G+
Trow, M.J. – 2nd in series
Severn House, 2016