My rating: ★★★★✩
Murder at Manassas (not -es, as in the title here on Goodreads!) was a pretty solid start to the Harrison Raines Civil War Mysteries series. More of a 3.5 star book, but the main character was likable and the milieu was better than average and overcame the rather pedestrian writing and confusing plot.
Harrison Raines is a rather well off dandy, who passes the time playing cards and investing in various money making schemes. Washington DC is all a twitter, as the first big battle of the American Civil War is about to commence, with the Confederates meeting the Union at the nearby town of Manassas. The Confederates were to call this the Battle of Manassas, as they usually named them after nearby towns, while the Union called it the Battle of Bull Run, using a nearby river or other geographic location. The battle was watched by a whole stream of civilians, who flocked to the site from DC to catch what they figured would be the first and last battle of the Civil War.
Raines gets dragged along by Caitlin, with whom he is smitten yet who doesn't return the favor, as she loves John Wilkes Booth (yes, that Booth). But he does as bidden and they see the Union disaster unfold before them. They also see a Major Pleasants try to stem the tide of retreating blue, only to be shot down. Later he is asked to help retrieve the body and there uncovers a startling fact - Pleasants was almost certainly murdered!
This also leads him into a labyrinthine maze of torn loyalties, Federal jurisdictions, plots, counter plots and treachery. Who is trying to steal shoes from the Union and give them to the Confederate? Who killed a sargeant and tried to pin it on Raines? Can he find the answers to these before being arrested and thrown in jail by the DC marshall, or should he help Pinkerton?
Lots of minor characters show up and sometimes I lost track of them. There are plenty of historical figures who play parts, both major and minor in the story, including Clara Barton, Allan Pinkerton, and even Abraham Lincoln himself, who has some of the most amusing dialog. The story was a little too complex, I thought, and the writing servicable at best. But I liked all the characters and loved how the history was woven in. I'm looking forward to the second book in the series, A Killing at Ball's Bluff: A Harrison Raines Civil War Mystery.
PS: Darn it all - Michael Kilian died in 2005, ending the series at the Battile of Antietam, Harrison Raines book #6. That's sad ☹