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by Michael Kilian
Berkley, January 2003
304 pages
ISBN: 0425188299

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Most of us think of the Civil War as having been fought entirely ease of the Mississippi River. Michael Kilian disabuses us of that idea in the rather tedious A GRAVE AT GLORIETA, in which he describes the fighting that took place between North and South in New Mexico, with Mexican-Americans divided in their support.

Harrison Raines and his colleague, Joseph "Boston" Leahy," have been dispatched by Allan Pinkerton to assess Confederate strength, as the South moves to take control of California and the West.

Raines, the son of a wealthy Virginia planter, is estranged from his father, because he (Harry) opposes slavery. In his role as a "scout," he has managed to work for the North, while giving Southerners the impression that he is on their side, when the situation warrants. In addition, he has managed to get letters allowing him free passage from Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, very valuable in some of the intricate situations in which he finds himself.

Raines and Leahy separate, Leahy to warn Union forces about the Confederates and their proximity, and Raines to fulfill their mission of assessing Confederate strength. These two experiences scouts have just one map (which Raines seems to have bought as an afterthought), and which Raines insists that Leahy take. Raines is thus navigating in totally unfamiliar territory by trying to stay next to the river. Leahy was obviously dispatched so that Raines could hook up with the half Indian, half French Canadian Jacques Taines (Tonto, anyone?). Taines is a caricature of the Indian from 1960's westerns -- inscrutable, taciturn, wise, in tune with the sounds of nature and the weather.

The plot focuses on the battle for Glorieta Pass and on a series of murders, the first of which Raines and Leahy uncover when they find the bodies of a man and a woman -- with a bag of gold. Shortly after he arrives in Santa Fe, Raines learns that the man who was to be his major contact, Don Luis Almaden y Cortes has been murdered. For much of the rest of the book, Raines is at sixes and sevens, more interested in his infatuation with the head man's daughter than with fulfilling his mission.

Altogether, this book is a disappointment after Kilian's The Ironclad Alibi. The pace is very slow, the only really interesting character is Mercedes, Don Luis's inamorata, who is openly sympathetic with the Confederacy, although she is well aware of her lover's allegiance. The reader seems to be in a lecture about the Civil War rather than in an engrossing mystery.

Reviewed by Mary Elizabeth Devine, April 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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