On a ridge 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 Spaniel's obsessive investigation leads not only to his reliving the horrible carnage that occurred at Burnside Bridge over a century before, but to the true identity of the Union officer and the reason why another body resides in his grave in a small New England town. 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. From the Hardcover edition.
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. (Aug. 27) Copyright 1997-2005 Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 12, 2003
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Excerpt from No Certain Rest by Jim Lehrer
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.