Year published: 2003
Genre: Historical novel
Setting & time: (mostly) North Carolina; mid-19th century and modern times.
The book tells two converging stories. One is about the American Civil War as it played out in North Carolina (and Tennessee), seen from the viewpoints of two historical characters: Zebulon Vance, and Malinda Blalock, while the other is about modern-time psychic mountain dwellers and Civil War reenactors in the Appalachians who are on a collision course with some restless ghosts of the war.
The book examines how the Civil War tore apart families and made neighbours turn on each other, and how modern people in the area (not just reenactors ) all seem to think that their people were on the Confederate side during the war, when in fact they might have had ancestors on both sides. To add some spice to an already interesting story, McCrumb brings in a theme she has used in several of her other books: ghosts that can or will not rest. An additional dimension brings in NC governor Zebulon Vance to tell about the political side of the war, and Sheriff Spencer Arrowood as a balancing factor on the modern side, in his search for an ancestor who fought in the war.
The technique used to tell the story is one that is potentially confusing: two timelines, three major first-person narrators and an omniscient narrator, and a point of view that shifts between 5 important characters and a few minor ones. McCrumb pulls this off quite well and manages to keep the narrative voices distinct and separate and tell a cohesive story.
Most of all, this is a good story well told, as are all of her books. I am pleased that she seems to be moving away from the mystery genre, because her mysteries have always been more about people and their relationships than about detection, and I can truthfully say that only one of her books that I have read was a really good mystery (If ever I return, pretty Peggy-O).
Rating: Very good, as might be expected from this master storyteller. 4 stars.
Awards: Wilma Dykeman Award for Regional Historical Literature (by the East Tennessee Historical Society); 2004 Audie Award for Best Multi-voiced Narration (audio book award).