Miriam Grace Monfredo's Seneca Falls, New York, produces some extraordinary women, chief among them Glynis Tryon (1999's Must the Maiden Die, et al), the librarian turned early feminist detective, and Tryon's nieces Bronwen and Kathryn Llyr. Sisters of Cain, the seventh in Monfredo's series, takes place in 1862. The more conservative Kathryn is determined to nurse the wounded of the Civil War and hence travels to Washington to join Dorothea Dix's squad of Union battlefield nurses. Bronwen, the fiery redhead lately canned by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, has joined forces with Rhys Bevan, the chief of detectives at the U.S. Treasury Department. The Pinkertons, as it happens, comprise the Union's spy network from Washington southward. By the time of the action, they have been entirely compromised by secessionist sympathizers within the U.S. government, pressing the Pinkertons (who are professional detectives but amateurs at spying) into deep cover, the deep South, and deep trouble.
"Since your contact was one of those named on that page, you may also be known. The upshot of it," Rhys added, "is that I can't send you back there. Which, at least temporarily, gives me no agents in Baltimore."
She knew him too well to take this as a callous remark. No matter how it sounded, it wasn't a lack of agents in Baltimore that had so disturbed him, but their violent deaths.
The Union's most immediate concerns are launching its ironclad, the Monitor, to meet and nullify the South's just commissioned Merrimac, and taking the war to the South with General George McClellan's Virginia Peninsula Campaign. And it is in and around both of these events, and amongst Monfredo's well-drawn characters both real (McClellan, Dix, Bevan, Lincoln, et al) and imagined, that Bronwen and Kathryn must prevail.
Fast-moving, tightly written, and more than enough historical accuracy, feminism, spy craft, romance, and mystery for almost any reader, Sisters of Cain will no doubt find its way to a wide variety of bedsides. And if the detective-fancying-Civil-War-buff fans in those beds enjoy this, they should also try John Jakes's On Secret Service. --Michael Hudson [via]