No Certain Rest

No Certain Rest

4.0 4
by Jim Lehrer, Jim Lehrer
     
 

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On a hillside overlooking Burnside Bridge—the focus of the Battle of Antietam—souvenir hunters find the unmarked grave of an unknown Union officer.

Don Spaniel, an archeologist in the National Park Service, is called in to examine the remains. He soon discovers that the officer was murdered and that his identification disk could not possibly belong

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Overview

On a hillside overlooking Burnside Bridge—the focus of the Battle of Antietam—souvenir hunters find the unmarked grave of an unknown Union officer.

Don Spaniel, an archeologist in the National Park Service, is called in to examine the remains. He soon discovers that the officer was murdered and that his identification disk could not possibly belong to him, since its rightful owner is buried elsewhere. So who was this officer? Where did he come from? And why was he killed?

In a swift narrative deftly combining the past with the present, Jim Lehrer has created an engrossing story that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
No Certain Rest reads like Antietam: blood-soaked, fast-charging, filled with twists, and as hauntingly irresistible to a Civil War buff as the battle itself.” —Tony Horwitz

“[A] smoothly told story about courage and cowardice on the battlefield.” —Alan Cheuse (NPR), The Dallas Morning News

“[Lehrer] writes quirky thrillers, swiftly paced with a cleverly concealed solution. . . . [No Certain Rest is] a rousing tale of intrigue.”—Jeremy C. Shea, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“The heart of No Certain Rest [and] its most riveting passages [are] presented as excerpts from memoirs written by Union soldiers and veterans. The first-person voices are consistently compelling. They paint vivid tableaux; they shine with the truthfulness, hard-held values and modesty of an unrecoverable age.”
—Kai Maristed, Los Angeles Times

Publishers Weekly
In his 13th novel, PBS NewsHour anchor Lehrer delivers a clever forensic mystery. This effort does not quite pack the emotional and dramatic wallop of his last book, The Special Prisoner, but it does raise powerful questions about the ethics of whitewashing historical truths. Dr. Don Spaniel is an archeologist with the National Park Service. He is puzzled by an unusual grave discovered at the Civil War battlefield in Antietam,, Md., site of the single bloodiest day of fighting in America's military history. The skeletal remains of a Union officer reveal that the victim had been executed. While trying to identify the dead officer, Spaniel learns that the name on his I.D. tag is that of a man buried as a local hero back in his Connecticut hometown after the war. Who, then, is this unfortunate soul, and why was he wearing another man's identity tag? And why was he murdered? As Spaniel uses sophisticated, high-tech forensic equipment and procedures in his investigation, a 100-year-old written confession surfaces in an Iowa historical archive, and Spaniel suddenly realizes the magnitude of the mystery. What he doesn't grasp, however, is that the descendants of the Civil War veterans are just as passionate about honor today as their great-great-grandfathers were in 1862. Spaniel's professional fervor, and his ultimate decision about whether to disclose the truth, could have unintended, tragic results. Lehrer's style is fluid and fast moving; he skillfully develops suspense surrounding a compelling ethical dilemma. Agent, Tim Seldes. (Aug. 27) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
It's easy to recommend this historical mystery. The pace is brisk, the plot; centered around a body dug up on a Civil War battlefield; is interesting, and the author gives us a good dose of history and historical prose style to enjoy. Despite the paper-thin characterizations and some awkward attempts to show the effect of the past on the present, the central mystery holds the reader's attention: Who was shot, execution-style, and buried just yards from Burnside Bridge and Antietam Creek? Our detective is Don Spaniel, a workaholic archeologist for the National Park Service, and his main clues are the contents of the grave and an incendiary document he tracks down in Iowa. In the course of his investigation, Don and the reader learn, sometimes in horrifying detail, the story of the 1862 charge on Burnside Bridge that resulted in more than 20,000 casualties. In one particularly gruesome passage Don imagines the village church when it was a field hospital, sees the saws grinding through flesh and bone, and hears the screams. The mystery of the body is, of course, solved, but, in a somewhat ambiguous ending, the attempt to suppress the full story results in one last death. The main character, however admirable, is a company man and goes along with the cover-up. Perhaps the author's theme is that we must accept the truth as best we know it, that honest history is our best guide to who we are. KLIATT Codes: JSA;Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Random House, 222p. map., Healy
Library Journal
When two Civil War relic hunters stumble upon human remains on a hill overlooking Antietam Creek, National Park Service archaeologist Dr. Don Spaniel is called in to excavate. This novel follows Spaniel's quest for the truth and the consequences of his decision to reveal his discoveries. Spaniel employs the help of a forensic anthropologist, a retired army colonel and Civil War history buff, the Army War College, and various historical societies in solving the mystery. Excerpts from the fictional journal of Union soldier Albert Randolph are interspersed throughout, along with detailed snippets from actual archived materials, giving the novel the fullness and flavor of historical fiction. Though focused on fictional characters both past and present, this novel provides a considerable amount of history incidental to Civil War military life, especially at Antietam, in addition to being a very entertaining story. Though Antietam is the subject of various adult and juvenile fiction, most notably Bernard Cornwell's The Bloody Ground, this latest effort by news commentator/author Lehrer (The Special Prisoner) is recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/02.] - Jean Langlais, St. Charles P.L., IL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Public TV worthy and sometime novelist Lehrer (The Special Prisoner, 2000, etc.) invents and solves a crime committed at the battle of Antietam. Bureaucrats and Civil War reenactors are at the faintly beating heart of a story that cuts back and forth soberly between the diary of a Union sergeant and the workdays of a-there is no other way to put this-geeky (six foot eight, unpleasantly thin, and girlfriend-less for decades) government archaeologist trying to put a name on a newly discovered skeleton near Sharpsburg and Antietam Creek in Maryland, scene of one of the war's most vicious and devastating battles. Don Spaniel, the government's man of science, is on the scene as dirt is brushed away from the bones in an unmarked grave, revealing various oddities. For one thing, the soldier is face down. And he seems to have been shot through the back of the skull, perhaps by the Colt revolver that set off the metal detector wielded by the skeleton's discoverer. And maybe his hands were bound. Was he executed by the Rebs? Dr. Spaniel is able to draw on the many experts he's come to know in his National Park Service tenure, and clue by clue, expert by expert, he gradually learns that the bones once belonged to Kenneth Allbritten, an officer in the Eleventh Connecticut Volunteer Regiment, an outfit ordered by the criminally stupid Union General Ambrose Burnside to take and cross a stone bridge over Antietam Creek, exposing the men to murderous gunfire from the well-entrenched rebel forces on the opposite bank. Lehrer lets us know what Spaniel will learn through the diary entries of Albert Randolph, one of two chums recruited from his hometown by the valiant, perhaps too-valiant, LieutenantAllbritten. On his way to the solution, Spaniel tries on, and is eerily possessed by, Union Army drag, visits the soldiers' hometown, has a spooky fleeting contact with an Iowan, and sounds, in his spoken cadences, strangely like an iconic newscaster. Overreverent and, despite a shocking ending, largely inert.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780812968224
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/13/2003
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
5.16(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

She said she would be the short, dumpy blond woman carrying a thin, green leather valise. He told her he would be the tall, skinny man wearing rimless glasses and an Indiana Jones fedora.

There she was. There was Rebecca Fentress of the Marion County, Iowa, Historical Society. And here he was, Don Spaniel of the National Park Service. He had guessed, from the sound of her voice on the phone, that she could be somewhat elderly, as old as seventy possibly. But fifty-five or even less was his best estimate now upon seeing her in person. Not only did she talk older than she was, she was dressed that way in a two-piece dark blue cotton dress with a skirt that fell a good two inches below the knee.

“Doctor Spaniel, I presume,” she said to him.

“Ms. Fentress?” he said, removing his hat.

A friend had given him the fedora two years ago as a thirty-fifth birthday present. It was meant as a joke because Don, like Indiana Jones, was an archeologist. But Don so loved the hat that he had made it part of who he was, wearing it routinely. Reg Wom- ach, his laid-back Smithsonian anthropologist friend, often called him Harrison, as in Harrison Ford, the actor who played Indiana Jones in the movies. That didn’t bother Don. He figured there were worse things in life for a skinny guy in glasses to be called than Harrison Ford.

“I have always wanted to say something like ‘Doctor Spaniel, I presume,’ ” Ms. Fentress said.

Don Spaniel smiled at her. His impression was that here was a woman who was as pleasant as she was plain and who most probably, in his instant analysis, was very smart. He was prepared to like and admire her even more if the private Civil War papers of the late Albert Randolph of the Eleventh Connecticut Volunteers were in that green case she was clutching to her body.

They were standing just inside the main entrance of Washington’s majestic Union Station—a six-foot-four gawky man leaning down to a speak to a five-foot-four solid woman who was looking almost straight up. In silhouette, they could have easily passed for a Norman Rockwell painting, possibly a small-town high school English teacher speaking to the basketball coach about a star player’s D2 theme on a Charles Dickens novel.

Rebecca Fentress had called Don from Union Station less than twenty minutes earlier to announce her surprise arrival in Washington, D.C., and to arrange an immediate meeting with him. He had suggested she get in a taxi and come to his office, which he assured her was barely ten minutes away in an area called Potomac Park. She said she really would rather not leave the station. All right, he said. How about meeting me in front of the huge electronic schedule board at the main entrance of the train station?

It was three in the afternoon. There were many people going to and from trains and milling about the many shops in Union Station, which had been very successful since being rehabilitated into a retail center as well as a train station a few years ago. He noticed the several open restaurants there in the main rotunda were not crowded and he suggested they find a quiet place in one.

“I don’t fly on airplanes,” Ms. Fentress said to Don. “It takes a long time to get from Iowa to here by train, it really does. You have to go through Chicago, for one thing; Pittsburgh, for another.”

Soon, they were seated in the quietest corner of a place which, according to its menu, offered at least one food specialty from each of the fifty states.

“I’ll bet the one from Iowa has something to do with corn,” said Rebecca Fentress. “Corn is what people think of when they think of Iowa—corn and pigs.” She was right. Iowa’s representative was listed under side orders: corn on the cob.

She ordered a piece of pecan meringue pie, a specialty of New Mexico, and a cup of Maryland coffee, which appeared to Don to be like any other kind of coffee.

He didn’t want anything now except what might be in Ms. Fentress’s valise, but, to be polite, he got a simple no-state’s Diet Coke.

“I have brought you Xerox copies of the Albert Randolph materials,” Ms. Fentress said before she made even a move to touch anything.

Don wanted to reach across the table and hug Rebecca Fentress. But all he did—all he thought that was appropriate to do—was say, “Thank you very much. I really do appreciate what you have done.” He came close to speaking on behalf of some long-dead men from a Connecticut regiment of volunteers with names such as Kingsbury, Griswold, Allbritten, and Mackenzie. But he thought better of it. That, too, would have been over the top.

“The originals are under lock and key at our local bank, and there they will likely always remain,” she said. “No one will ever again be allowed to read them.”

Don, in his state of hyperhappiness, didn’t quite get it. What was she saying? “Why? What’s the problem?” he asked.

“The problem is only that the board of trustees of our historical society decided our purpose was only to collect and preserve things from the past, not to stir them up.”

She was no longer smiling as she took several bites of her pie and a sip of coffee.

“How do you plan to use the information contained in these papers, doctor?” she then asked.

“I’m not sure, to tell you the absolute truth. I am not sure, of course, what is in them to begin with. . . .”

“I told you on the phone that they were sensitive and that they were definitive. I am confident you will find them so as well. They will undoubtedly clear up any questions you might have about what happened at the bridge at Antietam on September 17, 1862.”

“I’m delighted and excited at that prospect.” Delighted and excited said only half of it. His very soul swung and swayed with the prospect of finally knowing exactly what had happened.

She pushed away her pie plate and coffee cup and reached over to her green case, which she had placed on the table to her left. She moved it in front of her and zipped it open.

Don Spaniel began to feel as if he were some kind of mysterious operative, here amid the cover of a crowded train station, receiving from Courier Fentress of Iowa the secrets, the goods—the magic.

“Here,” she said, handing him a sealed white envelope. It looked thick. There were several pages of something inside.

Don took the envelope and said, “Thank you, Ms. Fentress. I promise you that I will not—”

“No promises, please. None is necessary. I did this of my own free will to satisfy my own needs and beliefs.”

She zipped the valise closed, looked at her watch, and stood. “Now I must go catch my train.”

Don was on his feet. “Where are you going?”

“Home, doctor. Home.”

“But didn’t you just get here?”

“I came here to hand you that envelope personally. I felt it was too important to leave to the vagaries of the U.S. mails or one of the private express firms. My mission accomplished, I am going home.”

Don left a ten-dollar bill on the table. She started walking; he fell in beside her.

“Your luggage? Where is your luggage?”

“A redcap took it when I got off the train. He’s probably now, as we speak, putting it in my compartment on the new train. That is what I asked him to do, at least. I love traveling in those bedrooms. Have you ever done that?”

“No, ma’am, I haven’t.”

“It’s tight for two—are there two of you?”

“No, ma’am. And at the rate I’m going there may never be more than me—than one.”

“There are worse things,” she said with a clip in her tone.

Message most definitely received, Don said, “My problem is that my job is pretty much my life—too much, say the women who come and go. I’m accused of living too much in the past.”

“That’s what some people say about me, too.”

They passed a boutique hardware shop and a bookstore and a model-train emporium and several more eating places and were now nearing her gate for Amtrak’s Capitol Limited to Pittsburgh and Chicago.

He told her how much he had enjoyed meeting her, again thanked her, and again praised her for what she had done to help him resolve a 134-year-old mystery.

“It must be quite satisfying and fulfilling work you do as an archeologist, particularly on the Civil War.”

“Extraordinarily so, yes, ma’am.”

Ms. Fentress extended her right hand, and he took it in his. She said, “What I do is also satisfying and fulfilling. Few people at home understand why I would be content to run a historical society in my small town. I, frankly, can no longer imagine not doing so.”

“I’m the same exact way,” Don said.

She had more to say: “Please let me know once you have decided what you’re going to do with the Randolph material.”

Don promised to do so. He was suddenly eager for Rebecca Fentress to get back on her train. He wanted desperately to tear open the envelope and read the Randolph papers. Onward, please. Good-bye. Have a nice train trip, please. . . .

But there was one last thing. “Doctor Spaniel, I trust you are prepared to deal with the consequences of telling Albert Randolph’s Antietam story?”

“I believe I am. . . . Yes, ma’am.” It was, in fact, something to which he had not given that much thought. Most of what he had considered thus far had to do specifically with Jim Allbritten and Fred Mackenzie, two present-day descendants of the men in Randolph’s story. But first, he had to confirm conclusively what had occurred in the heat of battle on an Antietam hillside 134 years ago. Then he would deal with what to do about it—what to say to Allbritten and Mackenzie, among others.

“Opening up graves can sometimes lead to an unleashing of old demons and to unexpected consequences,” added Ms. Fentress.

“I know. Yes, I know,” said Don, barely able to conceal his readiness for her to leave. But he owed her an answer. “I believe that those consequences, whatever they are, are part of the history. Whatever is meant to be, will be.”

She seemed about to respond but then apparently thought better of it and did finally go.

But from the way she flicked her head to the right and squinted her eyes, Don read a message of disagreement from Rebecca Fentress of Iowa.

Whatever. Don watched with great pleasure as she showed her Amtrak ticket to the gate attendant and then disappeared in the direction of Iowa.

He spotted a section of deserted chairs by a train gate not then in use and raced for them, ripping open the envelope as he ran.

Once seated, he carefully removed the papers.

The first page was typed. It appeared to be a list of items, signed by a sheriff. Then there were an official army document, a copy of a newspaper clipping, a black-and-white photograph, and, finally, several pieces of white copy paper folded over in thirds and held together at the top by a large silver paper clip.

Don unfolded the pages. There was handwriting on them. It was a letter. He removed the clip.

He could feel his heart beating, his pulse quickening, his breath shortening—his soul leaping.

The handwriting was large, clear, and clean.

In the upper-right-hand corner of page one, in neat script, was the date. “September Seventeen, Eighteen Hundred and Seventy Two.”

Ten years to the day after the battle of Antietam!

Then Don began to read the text:

I, Albert Randolph, here now render terrible words of con- fession. I have addressed them to no particular person or persons because I do not know who will ultimately read them. I have written them mostly for myself rather than for others. I have written them because I have no choice but to write them; my troubled soul and my angry God permit no other course.

I was party to one of the most heinous crimes the darkest side of the human spirit can generate. It was committed on a day ten years ago near a Maryland town named Sharpsburg on a creek called the Antietam.

I render this confession on this day because the anniversary memories are acutely painful to my being. That pain, unbearable and unrelenting, provides the force that moves my pen across this page.

On that morning of September seventeen, the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and sixty-two, I was serving as a sergeant in the Eleventh Connecticut Volunteer Regiment. Assigned to the Second Brigade of the Third Division of the Ninth Corps of the Army of the Potomac, we were a proud and worthy unit of men, dedicated to fighting for the preservation of our hallowed Union and for the glory and reputation of our beloved birth state of Connecticut.

We were on that day given the mission of seizing access to and control of the Lower Bridge across Antietam Creek, which was in the State of Maryland not far from the Potomac River and the State of Virginia. We were part of a large and determined force under the leadership of General George McClellan that had as its ultimate mission to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Robert E. Lee.

There were no questions in any mind or heart among those of us in the Army of the Potomac that we would be victorious.

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