DUTY, HONOR, MURDER
Pamela Cummings

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Amber Quill Press July 2003
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood
 
Historical Mystery

Garet Morgan felt more at home on active duty in Texas, than he does returning to the West Point of 1853. Being a teacher in the same halls where he did his officer training is disorienting enough. To be threatened by the pathologically hostile Captain Edgwick within hours of his arrival gets him off to a shaky start.

War hero Captain Edgwick doesn’t hesitate to add Lieutenant Morgan to the list of people who despise him. What’s one more enemy in a whole US Army full of them? Returning to the quarrel which Morgan had interrupted, Edgwick is challenged to a duel by Cadet Lambert Gardner, a hopeless student but one of the best swordsmen on the base. Morgan and Gardner are only the most recent of his antagonists; but when Edgwick is found dead, that is enough to focus on them the attention of the brainlessly belligerent provost marshal Captain Barnard. Barnard is conducting what he pleases to call an investigation into Edgwick’s murder. That means trouble for Morgan and Gardner.

Attempting to clear their names, Morgan and Gardner have the help – and otherwise – of several notable characters. Taking far too much initiative, in Morgan’s opinion, is Gardner’s sister Elizabeth, whose education and assertiveness were out of place at home in Virginia. Morgan’s Southern ideal of a charming woman is Capt. Edgwick’s daughter Dorothea: appreciative, a wonderful listener, and an intoxicating relief after dealing with Elizabeth. Col. Robert E. Lee, superintendent of the academy, is firm but fair, a gentlemanly cousin of Lambert and Elizabeth. Calhoun Singleton, Gardner’s roommate, admired by everyone, is a top student and the very image of a gentleman. Sergeant O’Malley, in charge of the stables, knows more than he would appear to in his state of drunkenness.

Each of the characters named above are perfect examples of their type. As a recreation of life, they are completely believable. As the subjects of a story, they would be more interesting if they had a few unbelievable quirks. The motivation for the murder, a quirky action even in the army, is absolutely true to type. I knew for certain who did it half way through the book, based on character type alone.

With its people acting exactly to pattern, DUTY, HONOR, MURDER needs a little extra help to hold the attention. It gets it. The main goal of author Pamela Cummings has been to recreate the West Point of the 1850s. Her feeling for the history of the pre-Civil War South is a lifetime love, and she has dedicated precise thought to each detail. The result is that we find ourselves actually walking through West Point, shivering on the winter ice.

DUTY, HONOR, MURDER could easily be the first of a series. Morgan, Gardner, and Elizabeth have plenty of stories left in them.

July 2003 Review

 

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