A Memory of Muskets

A Memory of Muskets

The latest Chloe Ellefson mystery, following Death on the Prairie, is A Memory of Muskets, and it’s the best one yet.

Part of that is due to the connection to author Kathleen Ernst’s own experience. The mysteries are set at Old World Wisconsin in the 1980s, which is when Ernst worked there. This particular mystery involves the murder of a Civil War reenactor, an activity Ernst also participated in (along with her husband). As a result, she does an excellent job capturing the kinds of concerns and motivations that drive people to reenact. It’s a fascinating portrait of a specialized kind of hobby group, with various politics and disputes over authenticity and women’s participation, among many other topics and ramifications.

As the story begins, Chloe’s awful boss wants a Civil War battle to draw attention. Chloe and her co-workers want to focus more on education and accuracy than flashy events. That’s one conflict.

A Memory of Muskets

The other is more personal. Chloe’s boyfriend, a local police officer, has just bought back his family’s farm, and he wants Chloe to move in with him. One of the outbuildings gives her the willies, though, and she’s unsure how much of it is due to her unspoken worries over moving their relationship forward.

As is typical of many novels in this series, the 1980s chapters are interspersed with others set in the period of history relevant to the mystery. Here, it’s the story of Rosina, a young woman immigrating to Wisconsin in 1861 to marry someone she’s never met. However, a shipboard romance changes her life, plus she arrives in her new country just as war breaks out.

Normally, I find these past tales not as interesting as the more recent-day mysteries, and I rush through them to get back to the “main” story. In this case, though, I was as involved in Rosina’s story as Chloe’s. Often, those chapters mean that the reader knows more about the artifacts Chloe finds than she does, reminding us of how much we can only imagine or assume about the past.

The book ends with a few pictures of real artifacts similar to the ones in the story, a nice connection between this fiction and the real-world history that inspired it. The author has posted more at her blog. If you’re interested in another living history/reenactment mystery, try The Final Reveille.

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