Author Jeffrey Marks has put together an interesting and very enjoyable collection of previously published stories featuring Ulysses S. Grant. Each story occurs during the Civil War and before the time of the first US Grant Mystery Novel, The Ambush of My Name. The stories portray Grant as a detective bringing his skills to bear on cases where the Civil War is a backdrop.
The book opens with "Under Reconstruction." Ulysses S. Grant likes to start his day with as belt of whiskey. His wife, Julia, as well as many others expect him to be President in about three years. In the meantime he has to put up with nonsense like the planned meeting this morning with Stanton who is Secretary of War. Too bad there is a dead man in Stanton's office. In Grant's opinion, it is a real shame that the dead man is not Stanton. Not only does Grant need to find the Secretary of War, he needs to find out who killed the dead man as quickly as possible to deal with the politics involved.
"Under Siege" follows and moves the action from the White House to the war. Grant has a new regiment from Ohio and they are not ready for battle. Not only are they not remotely ready, but in Grant's considered opinion, the new troops don't even know which end of the gun to point at the enemy. Contrary to Grant's opinion, apparently at least one did. Because the shot Grant just heard over the flapping of the tents was the shot that killed Private Walters. According to Captain Turner, a man Grant respects even if he is soft on the recruits, it is a suicide. Turner wants Grant to see for himself. The problem with that is that once Grant takes a look he realizes this death was no suicide.
It's late in 1863 and the various desserts cooling in the kitchen in "Under Cooked" are creating an intoxicating smell. What isn't so pleasant is the sight of the dead woman bleeding into her own dough. Vicksburg is behind him and the manor home on Lookout Mountain in East Tennessee was supposed to have been a tranquil headquarters for Grant. Now Jenny Rowe is dead and the assumption by everyone else is that she was killed by a stray round fired during drills. If you aren't hungry for desert when you start reading this story you will be by the end as there is a recipe from 1862 for "Green Apple Pies."
Shifting the perspective considerably is the story "Under Hoof." Written from the prospective of a horse, Cincinnati that General Ulysses S. Grant rode during the war, it tells the tale of a death. Since the humans all look so much alike to the horses involved it is hard for Cincinnati and the other horses to know which specific humans were involved. That fact and the fact Cincinnati is going to have to somehow explain the real truth to the General are just two of the complexities in the story.
General Ulysses S. Grant was supposed to be out on one of the Federal boats, dry and comfortable. Instead as "Under Water" opens, Grant is standing over a corpse that lies in the muck next to the bank somewhere along the Mississippi River. Somebody has caved in the man's skull and most likely it was a shovel. Shovels are everywhere as Grant plans to divert the Mississippi to leave Vicksburg dry and vulnerable to attack. Who the man was, what his purpose was, and who killed him are just a few of the questions Grant needs answered as fast as possible.
Ulysses S. Grant has had men in his command, men he trusted, commit murder and other acts dishonoring themselves and their units. So, the fact that Private Jones says he didn't do it in "Under Suspicion" does not mean that much to Grant. Plans for the campaign after Vicksburg are missing with the fate of the war hanging in the balance. Private Jones was the last person known to be in the room with the documents. If he didn't take them, then who did?
Major General Abner Doubleday needs Grant's help in "Under Hand." Doubleday has a reputation that is not at all positive. What happened at Gettysburg and Doubleday's role in it no longer matters but it does to Doubleday. He claims to now have proof for what he has said all along. He wants Grant to meet a witness who is now finally coming forward more than a year later after the events in question. Grant knows that the whole deal is suspect but has no idea how messed up things will become before the deal is finished.
War takes a toll on all. Some die. Some live. Of those that live a significant number will be forever broken. That reality is true today just as it is true in "Under Sedation." Grant is going to visit those broken men in the hospital in Washington. It is his duty and his responsibility. The fact that somebody killed a patient while Grant was at the hospital won't be tolerated. Before long, Grant is investigating to make sure the guilty party is caught.
Cyrus Williams disappeared just after the Army of Tennessee took Jackson, Mississippi. Captain Lee, no relation at all to the southern general, has a picture from one of those new-fangled camera things showing what might be Williams as a ghostly apparition in the picture. While some believe Williams deserted, Captain Lee believes the ghostly figure in the picture is Williams pointing out his killer. Then the body of Williams turns out proving he wasn't a deserter in "Under Developed."
These ten stories are full of rich history and scene details that all invoke a bye gone era. In story after story, General Grant finds the truth with or without the help of man or beast. War is easier than investigation and yet Ulysses S. Grant manages to be incredibly successful at both while excellently entertaining the reader with his brand of truth, honor and justice.
Material supplied quite some time ago by the author in exchange for my objective review.