A Union general recruiting among the Irish coal miners in Pennsylvania is dead. The confessed killer is also dead. But Major Abel Jones believes otherwise, convinced that the clannish Irish miners, violently opposed to the Civil War and emancipation, have hidden the killer. But when Jones opens the casket of the supposed murderer, and instead finds the body of a woman, he finds himself in a tangled web of political and social hatred and rivalries.
I say nothing new by stating that the central draw of Owen Parry's "Abel Jones" series is the beautifully developed character of Jones. "Bold Sons of Erin", the fifth entry in the series, displays that strength of character spectacularly. Jones for the most part remains the stiff, snotty, but honest Welsh Methodist we know and love, spouting off his low opinions of Irish Catholics, and his mixed views on everyone else. However, Jones experiences a great deal of growth, not only pursuing a murderer, but dealing with personal battles on the home front. His adventures have taken him from home. His wife Mary, while still loyal and understanding, is slowly losing patience with his sense of duty. His young son doesn't know him well. The young girl he has adopted has created resentment. And finally, when Mary's uncle dies, he leaves the Jones' with a great deal of wealth, and Abel with a horrible secret about his wife. Jones frequently finds himself reexamining his views of the world as the truths he has clung to are challenged by reality.
While set during the Civil War, Parry only brings that event to the foreground when necessary and appropriate. Jones is not Forrest Gump, miraculously present for every important event. He recounts witnessing Antietam early in the book, and gives us a very bloody and heartfelt description of the atrocity of Fredericksburg at the close of the novel. Jones works directly for Abraham Lincoln, and so meets with the president on one occasion. Parry's is more interested in the social ramifications and political maneuvering of the War than with the military aspects. Thus, Jones must struggle with resentful Irish violently opposed to the draft (even as the Irish brigade distinguishes itself), consumed by the superstitions of the old country; the loyal German immigrants whose importance to the Union effort cannot be understated, even as some of them have revolutionary tendencies; and the mysterious role of Russia, the only major European power to support the North. He also finds himself with the shifting social fabric of his own community, including his wife's growing independence.
The mystery itself is one of the best of the series, as Parry is very careful to weave a variety of plot lines into a nice chilling romp. Grotesque and violent imagery abounds, as Jones plumbs the mystery of the murdered general. As is often the case with a good mystery, red herrings abound, as matters that Jones initially believes important prove incidental, and trivial matters are the key to affairs. However, the truth of the matter is, sharing company with Jones is more than enough to keep a novel going. A well-constructed mystery is a bonus.
Parry continues to weave satisfying books. Sometimes, he even achieves a near-greatness. While I'm not sure what the future holds, Parry drops hints that there are plenty more adventures for Jones even after the Civil War. So as far as I am concerned, Parry can keep this series going as long as he wants.