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The Deserter: Murder at Gettysburg Hardcover – June 9, 2003

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Product Details

  • Series: Langton, Jane
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; First Edition edition (June 9, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312301863
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312301866
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.7 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #556,174 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Civil War buffs will especially appreciate Langton's 17th Homer Kelly mystery (after 2002's The Escher Twist), in which the Harvard professor/sleuth and his wife, Mary, plunge into research in an effort to exonerate Seth Morgan, Mary's great-great-grandfather, a Harvard man suspected of desertion at Gettysburg. In 1863, in the battle's aftermath, Seth's pregnant wife, Ida, an independent and hardy New Englander, desperately seeks her missing husband as far as Baltimore and Washington. Meanwhile, Seth's comrade-in-arms Otis Pike, "the witty darling of his class at Harvard," provides some comic relief with his tendency to skedaddle and his scandalous involvement with actress Lily LeBeau. Homer realizes that the key to the mystery of Mary's ancestor's seemingly shameful action lies in ascertaining the particulars of Seth's relationship to Otis. The suspense builds as the author adroitly shifts between past and present. Period photos, an 1860 playbill for the Hasty Pudding show, quotations from Walt Whitman and loads of Harvard lore add historical weight. Fans of this generally lighthearted series, though, should be prepared for some graphic description of the horrors of war.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

How do you keep a mystery series going after 16 novels? Keep finding clever things to do with it. In this seventeenth Homer Kelly mystery, the Harvard professor and his wife, Mary, discover an odd branch in Mary's family tree. Some chapters of the novel are set in the present, as Homer and Mary try to figure out what happened between her great-great grandfather and another man; others are set during the Civil War, as we see the events unfold. The book is illustrated, scrapbook fashion, with vintage photographs of some of the characters (who are based on real people); there are also letters, posters, playbills, and other interesting add-ons. The author combines mystery with history so cleverly that we feel like we have visited Mary's great-great grandfather on the eve of the Battle of Gettysburg. As always, Homer uses his unique intellect and insatiable curiosity to keep us entertained as he solves another mystery from the past. This remarkable series shows no signs of letting up. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

I've written an awful lot of books. There are eleven for middle-aged children, mostly fantasies. The ones that have hung around the longest are "The Diamond in the Window" and "The Fledgling." The seventh in the series called "The Hall Family Chronicles" came out last spring, "The Mysterious Circus," and I've just finished writing an eighth, "The Dragon Tree."

All eighteen mysteries for adults have the same protagonists, Homer and Mary Kelly. Mary is the sensible one, but I confess I like Homer's rhapsodic flights of fancy. Most of their adventures happen in Massachusetts, but I've also sent them to farflung places I wanted to visit myself, like Florence, Oxford and Venice. Most of the novels are illustrated with my own drawings, but "The Escher Twist" has ten prints by the mysterious Dutch artist M. C. Escher, and the two historical mysteries are illustrated with nineteenth-century photographs.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 8 customer reviews
It is a powerful, eloquent moment, calling upon all of us to remember and understand.
Bruce Trinque
Adding period photos--Author used actual photos for historical characters & photos marked "unknown" for fictional characters.
Truth Seeker
This will never be my favorite Langton, but it is still worth reading if you are a fan of this mystery/history author.
E. A. Lovitt

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on May 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I don't read a great many mystery novels, although there are a few authors for whom I keep an eye open. Jane Langton is one of that small group. Her mysteries are far from any stereotype of hard-bitten private eye or police detective tales. Langton's books are quirky and literate, peopled by eccentric characters and, more often than not, deeply linked to some aspect of history. All involve Homer and Mary Kelly (both are Harvard professors, although Homer is also a former policeman) but usually the Kellys are less the center of the story than the means through which it is told. Mary Kelly, it turns out, has an ancestor who evidently did something terribly shameful during the Civil War, the details lost in family silence. Sparked by contemplation of Harvard's grand Memorial Hall, dedicated to the memory of those Harvard men who died fighting for the Union in the Civil War, the Kellys begin researching why great-great-grandfather Seth Morgan's name became shrouded in such disgrace. And it soon becomes apparent that the heart of the mystery lies at Gettysburg where Morgan's regiment, the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry, made a futile, bloody attack on Confederate works near Culp's Hill on the morning of the third day of battle. The novel's narrative switches back and forth from the present, with Homer and Mary delving into libraries and records depositories and family attics, to 1863 where we see the battle through the eyes of a scapegrace soldier and then the battle's dreadful aftermath of pain and suffering as Morgan's pregnant wife searches through hospitals for her vanished husband.Read more ›
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The Deserter is the best plotted Jane Langton mystery in the whole Homer Kelly series. People who normally avoid her novels because there isn't enough mystery should give Ms. Langton another chance. You'll be following the developments with interest up to the last pages of the book.
A typical Homer Kelly novel pretty much gives the mystery away in the first few pages, and the focus is on how Homer or his wife Mary will find out what really happened. They usually bumble around quite a bit, and their efforts are more amusing than brilliant. What makes most of the novels appealing is their rich intellectual development of an interesting thinker and period in time.
In The Deserter, the excellent aspects of that approach are retained while interesting new aspects are added. I was very much impressed with these changes.
In the Deserter, the reader is presented with the same mystery that Mary Kelly has: What shameful thing happened to her great great grandfather, Seth Morgan that no one in the family wants to talk about? In the course of pursuing that mystery, Ms. Langton adds a second one for Ida Morgan, Seth's pregnant wife, during the Civil War. Where and how is he? Ida reads that he's listed as missing in action at Gettysburg, and wants to find out what happened.
The story has several narrators including Homer, Mary and Ida. In addition, you'll meet and listen to the story of Private Otis Pike, a member of the Harvard Class of 1860 and fellow Hasty Pudding Club member along with Seth and several of the other officers in the Second Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry at Gettysburg.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By E. A. Lovitt HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on October 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is indeed a 'Homer Kelly' mystery (the seventeenth in the series), but Langton's serial detective has very little to do in "The Deserter." In another of her mysteries, Langton has a character refer to the 'deep well of the past.' In "The Deserter," we are IN that well, glancing occasionally upward at dimly gesticulating characters from the present. The author could very well have left Homer and Mary out of this book, and still have told an interesting story about the Battle of Gettysburg and its aftermath.

Normally I avoid books about the American Civil War like the plague. Even Langton's patented touches of light humor, e.g. the dance hall babe in beribboned knickers, failed to brighten up this book with its piles of sawed-off limbs, frightened young soldiers, and putrid corpses.

The plot overlay involves Mary's effort to clear the name of her great-great-grandfather, who was accused of deserting his regiment during the Battle of Gettysburg. We slip backward a hundred and fifty years and learn that Lieutenant Seth Morgan was actually killed by one of his own soldiers, who then swapped uniforms and identities with him and hightailed it for Baltimore. Seth's pregnant wife Ida searches the temporary hospitals and morgues for her husband's body and is finally told that Seth deserted.

Ida is the real heroine of this book, although she never learns the actual fate of her husband (that has to wait for Homer and Mary). She is one of Langton's typical heroines: slightly shabby and made bulky by her growing baby, but upright, determined, and very likeable. Her sixteen-year-old brother is sent to bring her back home to Massachusetts and enlists in the Union Army, instead.

Ida stumbles across her brother dying of typhoid fever in Washington D.C.
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