A Memory of Muskets
A Chloe Ellefson Mystery #7
By Kathleen Ernst
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
Curator Chloe Ellefson is happily planning to spotlight home-front challenges and German immigrants at Old World Wisconsin’s first Civil War reenactment—but her overbearing boss scorns her ideas and proposes staging a mock battle. And when a reenactor is found dead at one of the historic site’s German farms, Chloe’s boyfriend, cop Roelke McKenna, suspects murder.
The more Roelke learns about reenacting, the more he fears that a killer will join the ranks at Chloe’s special event. Then Chloe discovers a disturbing secret about Roelke’s Civil War-era ancestors. Together they struggle to solve crimes past and present . . . before Chloe loses her job and another reenactor loses his life. (from Goodreads)
This is one of my favorite historical cozy mystery series! Seventh in the Chloe Ellefson Mystery series, it can be read as a standalone. ‘A Memory of Muskets’ is impressive for the historical detail that the author researched and shared with we readers, and it includes a tiered mystery that is stunning and intense. The novel is set in 1983, before cell phones (or smartphones!),or personal computers were in use. Most smaller companies or municipalities didn’t have any kind of computer networks, either. Impressive also is that the author actually lived some of the situations in this novel, such as where she worked and the type of reenactor she was.
Chloe is Curator of Collections at Old World Wisconsin in Wisconsin. Her boyfriend Roelke recently purchased the old Roelke farm that had been in his family in generations past, and Chloe was going to move into the farmhouse with him. Roelke is a cop, and his career and hers will clash in this novel – or at least with the Site Director of Old World Wisconsin, Ralph Petty.
This is the first novel I’ve read with a detailed historical reenactment, in this case, the Civil War. As Old World Wisconsin caters to tourists and families, a reenactment of battle scenes could be too intense for young or sensitive visitors, so Chloe and her boss want to start the first reenactment at the farmhouses that were moved, in their entirety, to Old World and farms established around each as in the original locations, with the interpreter (staff who dressed as period person) sharing and telling visitors about their various characters.
Before the events are even scheduled, however, the body of one who appears to be a reenactor is found outside the barn of one of the farms, dead of a broken neck. He is dressed entirely in authentic repros of period clothing, with no current ID of any kind, just a haversack of various foodstuffs that Civil War soldiers might have carried, and what looks like an original tintype of a little boy. This situation is terrible to the director because he fears somebody will sue them for the man’s death. While the man could not have accessed the walkway on the barn exterior, it is the only logical place he could have fallen – or been pushed – from. Roelke’s job is cut out for him, as the director doesn’t want anything to stop the visitors from coming into the farm areas.
While Chloe has never been Petty’s favorite employee, he seems to delight in trying to find a reason to fire her. She loves the other aspects of her position enough to try to stay out of his way. Petty, who has political aspirations, has his fingers into many pies. He brought in a Civil War re-enactment group to do a full war scene in spite of the many children who come through with their parents. His group doesn’t stay true to period clothing and supplies, and requires electric hookups for their various equipment. What occurs during this unique weekend is most stunning of all, as Chloe and Roelke race against time to solve the challenges and save lives.
The characters are very well developed based on their roles. The better I get to know Chloe, the more I like her; she is very bright, hardworking young woman who is also learning that running when life is overwhelming isn’t her only option. She may not see her ‘gift’ of sensing the past when going into a home or building as a positive thing, even though there are times it is helpful. In this novel, Roelke wanted to dress up the original cabin that was on the Roelke farm, but Chloe couldn’t bear to go inside it because of the oppressive darkness she finds there, and is forced to tell Roelke about her gift. Roelke is a man who wants to take care of Chloe, but her fear of commitment of moving in and her feeling from the cabin are taking a toll on him. There are things he has to learn about himself and about his family that he has tried to keep from remembering. His sister Libby is a huge help; I appreciate her and the lengths she goes to as a single mom. Others we learn about when needed, making it hard for we armchair detectives to determine who the bad guy(s) might be.
The plot was an outstanding showcase of the author’s talents. The historical information was in no way dry or boring; I wish she had written the history books I had in school! Using a ‘real’ venue for the setting is a great choice; especially if readers have been there. I appreciated reading about the preparation that goes into even minor changes to the facilities. There was much drama, including the situations with Petty, Roelke’s family history and the relationship of Roelke and Chloe. The mystery was layered with a murder, poisonings, and theft. There was an assortment of potential bad guy(s) and plot twists to stump even the best reader! The final twists were brilliantly creative! The resolutions to the varied situations were carried out, leaving no loose ends. Overall, this novel was very satisfying; I highly recommend it to those who appreciate cozy mysteries that have strong historical ties and are very challenging to solve.