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   The Deserter

The Deserter

Author: Langton, Jane Set In . . .
 North America, USA, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Gettysburg, Washington D.C.
Genre: Mystery
Time Frame: 1800s
Published: 2003
“I’d been wanting for a long time to use the Civil War as a background, but couldn’t imagine how to do it. One day while taking a walk it dawned on me that since my long-suffering characters Homer and Mary Kelly teach and work in Harvard’s Memorial Hall, they could become interested in the memorial tablets lining the walls of the corridor, tablets listing the names of Harvard men who fell in the war. It was a way in.”

Jane Langton has set part of this dramatic story in the present and part during the great battle of Gettysburg. In the here-and-now, Homer and Mary Kelly try to trace the mysterious shame attached to the name of Mary's ancestor, Seth Morgan, a young student who served his country during the Civil War. In other chapters the secrets of what happened to Seth all those many years ago are unraveled in Jane Langton’s inimitable style.

The Deserter: Murder at Gettysburg is illustrated with authentic nineteenth century photographs, some of actual soldiers who fought and died in the battle, others chosen from anonymous photographs to represent fictional characters. Among these are Seth Morgan's pregnant wife, Ida, who trudges across the battlefield in search of him; Ida’s younger brother, Eben, who sets out to bring Ida home but joins up instead; and Dr. Alexander Clock, who attends Ida's delivery in the Patent Office hospital in wartime Washington. Most importantly, readers will be introduced to that infamous skedaddler, Private Otis Pike, along with Pike’s lady friend, buxom dancer Lily LeBeau.

No three days in history are more dramatic in American memory than the battle of Gettysburg. Langton's characters take part (or refuse to take part) in the rush to battle on the first day, the fatal abandonment of Union trenches on the second day, the deadly charge to regain them on the morning of the third day, and the mighty artillery duel and final repulse of the Rebel assault that afternoon.

As Homer and Mary combine clues from both the past and present, they finally solve the
perplexing puzzle of what really happened to Seth Morgan. In a final chapter some of the famous men and women of the 1860's speak up, and Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural brings the story to an eloquent close.

In The Deserter, Jane Langton has once again outdone herself, which, as her legions of passionate devotees know, is saying quite a lot indeed.
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