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No Certain Rest: A Novel Paperback – May 13, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Those who share television newsman James Lehrer's passion for the Civil War will be thrilled to encounter this graceful, deftly written novel about a U.S. Parks Department archaeologist investigating the mystery of a murdered Union officer whose remains are discovered in an unmarked grave near Antietam, the scene of one of the bloodiest battles in history. Don Spaniel's curiosity about the circumstances of the soldier's death is ratcheted up several degrees when it turns out that the ID disk found in the grave belongs to another solider from a different regiment, whose body is buried elsewhere. And when a woman from the historical society of a small town in the Midwest gives Spaniel a document that refers to the murder, along with a warning that some stories are better left untold, he swings into high gear to solve a century-old mystery. The pace of this novel is so slow it may put some readers to sleep, and the protagonist is more of a talking history book than a flesh-and-blood character, but real Civil War buffs probably won't mind at all. --Jane Adams --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From 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.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 222 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (May 13, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812968220
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812968224
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,976,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Wilkie Collins on September 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I am a great fan of Jim Lehrer's work. His book, White Widow, is an American classic. No Certain Rest is very different, but as rewarding. A quietly searing search for the truth about one of the worst battles of the Civil War, the book deals in another kind of obsession. Lehrer comes to his subject with a wealth of historical knowledge and he writes with a crispness and an economy that makes this book a deceptively easy read -- a page turner -- when, in fact, its themes and characters are complex. This book is for Civil War buffs and novices alike. I enjoyed it immensely and recommend it as one of Lehrer's best.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Jo Davis VINE VOICE on September 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
No Certain Rest is a modern day novel focusing on a Civil War mystery. The main character, Dr. Spaniel, is a government archeologist who is brought in to work on an unidentified set of remains discovered accidentally by relic hunters near the battle of Antietam. The overall mystery is fascinating as is the details included in a letter written by a civil war survivor who is a character in the book. The book provides authentic details of the war that are a bit gruesome and the dialogue is a bit stilted and dry but overall I enjoyed the book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Buccaneer on March 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
I love Jim Lehrer's news program, and I had heard that he was a prolific writer, and I am a passionate student of Civil War history, so you can imagine my delight when I saw this book for sale at the giftshop at the Antietam National Battlefield, having just visited Burnside's Bridge. The cover blurb was fascinating, the story looked fun -- and the book is 10% off at the park!

Alas, I must add my voice to the chorus here. Mr. Lehrer ain't no Hemingway. The story begins well, then rapidly begins introducing one-dimensional characters and implausible plot twists. I finished the book wishing that the story had ended a chapter or two earlier.

A final comment: if Mr. Lehrer wanted to deeply address the subject of futile infantry charges, ordered by incompetent commanders and made inevitable by gaps between technology and tactics, there are far better historical places where he could have done so -- all within easy reach of Mr. Lehrer's home in Washington. Frederickburg and Cold Harbor come to mind, but I'm sure there are many others.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By tertius3 on January 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Lehrer presents two parallel stories, a contemporary American Civil War description of battle events and a modern archaeologist's attempt to decipher those events. (This is a technique also used to much more spine-tingling effect by Beverly Connors in her archaeological mystery stories.) Unfortunately the archy character is an excitable scatterbrain and mere day-dreamer, whose pursuit of the past leads to a cruel modern tragedy. There are passages of incantory violence found in an "original" soldier's confessional narrative.
Lehrer knows how to plot and has a good premise here, but his prose is jarringly rough, wheezy, and simplistic (e.g., he concludes far too many descriptions with the incredibly lazy phrase "and whatever"). Of the old McNeil-Lehrer PBS News duo, McNeil is the better writer of fiction. This could have made a chilling short story but it went long and whatever.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Silver Springer on October 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is the story of a National Park Service archeologist, Don Spaniel, who is called in to find the identity of a Union soldier whose bones were found by Civil War souvenir hunters on private land very near the site where the bloody Antietam battle was fought. Spaniel is a man focused on history of the Civil war, so much so that this is the main focus of his life. His passion is contagious and the reader also gets wrapped up in trying to find out who this Union soldier was. Working with a Smithsonian anthropologist Reg Womach, this duo search out clues left in the grave as well as the story told by forensic examination of the bones.
Woven through the story are the details of that awful day on September 17, 1862 when over 23,000 soldiers lost their lives in the single bloodiest day in U.S. military history through the mistakes of General Burnside and other Union Army leaders. This mistake, and the escape of the Confederate forces, resulted in the extension of the war by 3 years with hundreds of thousands of lives lost.
The story is told in two ways: while Spaniel and Womack are unraveling the clues, we also get to read the account of that day by a Union soldier who wrote the story ten years after the battle. It was a little confusing at first to understand that Spaniel did not have that written account until his own investigation was almost complete. However both lines of the story do complement each other once you realize what is going on.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story on all counts: the mystery aspect and the Civil war story. The story was well written and went at a brisk pace. I found the plot twist at the end a little bizarre but overall strongly recommend this book to both mystery and history enthusiasts.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Rick Mitchell VINE VOICE on January 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover
At the heart of the book is a murder on the battlefield of Antietam. the remains are found by artifact hunters and the murderis deuced by an archeologist and his Smithsonian pathologist friend. The premise is a good one. Unfortunately, Mr. Lehrer goes no where with it.
This book really contains very little. Very little history, very little mystery, very little archeology, very little forensics - well, you get it.
The story line could have been good if fleshed out more. The author spends way too much time recounting his hero's imaginings of the battle at Antietam Creek. There was also much redundancy in the recountings of the battles.
Lastly, the last chapter containing a modern day murder is completely incongruous and superfluous.
This is a book to skip. I was hoping for some interesting insights into the battle or some in depth accounts on the archeology. The book delivers neither. It is mostly an ode to the Civil War by the main character, a National Park Archeologist, who apparently wishes he was there.
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