Miriam Grace Monfredo ranks as one of my three favorite historical mystery authors. (The other two are Anne Perry and Victoria Thompson.) I have read every single book of hers except for the last one, "Children of Cain". That situation will be rapidly solved in a month or so!
As usual, Monfredo's main characters were deeply complex, approachable, and human. (I especially liked the secondary character of the Natty, young opinionated, tough-acting-with-a-heart-of-gold street urchin who has attatched himself to Kathryn because she offered him kindness and understanding (things that were few and far between in his life of survival on the streets) and saved him from being arrested when they first met. That didn't mean that they didn't get on each other's nerves.
I did have a couple of problems with the story. For the most part, I generally don't like stories involving spies. So, while I liked Bronwyn's character, I didn't like many of her actions as a spy as well as I could have. I really feel that I would like this spin-off series from her Senica Falls series a little more if Monfredo emphasised Kathryn's story rather than Bronwen's.
(Not that I don't like this series. I enjoy it. But I prefered the Seneca Falls series overall just a bit better. The SF series featured on main strong female character, unmarried Glynis Tyrone, who is a librarian in a small New York town who becomes involved in women's issues as well as the growing animosity and issues between the northern and the southern states in the years prior to the American Civil War. When things leads to murder, she offers her unique female perspective while the crimes are solved.)
Unlike the second the second book in this "Civil War" (Cain) series, "Brothers of Cain" which offered me the the most intensely emotional heart-wrenching first chapter of any book I have read in a long time, and drew me in immediately to the story and the emotion from the first sentence which was a very telling bit of dialog, I had a difficult time getting into this book.
Up until about page 140, the plot featured Brownen and her spying campaign that takes her into Richmond, Virginia, the capitol of the Confederacy. Yes, there was a lot of fine, detailed action and some emotional scenes, plus a deadly villainess, but the story just didn't grab me. It seemed to lack the intensity of her other books. In fact, I found the many interviews to receive assignments a bit boring.
Then, around page 140, Kathryn was introduced. Her struggles to enlist as a war nurse (she was too young and pretty to meet Dorathea Dix's strict standards), her relationship with her sister, and later a young street urchin, was captivating. Kathryn also was no slouch as a sleuth, when someone identifies her as a spy's sister, and her own life is endangered.
Back to Bronwen, I finally started to like her character better when she faces her own ethical delima: while she certainly hated slavery and was firmly dedicated to the Union cause, and although she faced many enemies in the South, she started to see that the civilians were not her enemy.
One of the other things that made "Brothers of Cain" a better story, in my opinion, was that the story offered a far better balance among the individual stories of all three adult Lyr sibblings, Katheryn, Bronwen, and Union soldier Seth.
Still, don't get caught up in my minor complaints. In general, this book provided a great, thought-provoking read.
As I said in the beginning, Miriam Monfredo ranks as one of my three favorite historical mystery authors.
There are many reasons why I like her novels so much. Her stories and deep and extremely intense but without overworking details and characters, and, most importantly, not relying on the gross overuse of blood, guts, gore, sex, violence, swearing, and whathaveyou, despite the subject matters of her books. The intensity is felt through the scenes, her character's actions, reactions, emotions, conflicts, and thoughts, brought together in a tight writing style.
I really get a feel for the characters and situations. Her characters are well drawn, complex, and human. She is expecially good at sharing her characters's feelings and thoughts. Her descriptions are so detailed (without overdoing it) that it would be difficult to read her books quickly, but her books are quite readable.
She really does her research, too. She not only includes an extensive glossery, biography, and notes at the end of each of her books, but she also begins each of the chapters with a historical quote. She weaves in the issues (often women's issues) of the day (although many of the basic themes are applicable for the present day.)
It is too bad that she has not published anything for about three to four years. I wonder what happened to her?