A novel of crime and passion in post-Civil War Maryland, based on a true story, from a “wonderfully talented” author (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times).
Winner of the Michael Shaara Prize for Excellence in Civil War Fiction
Based on true events from the author’s family history, Jarrettsville begins in 1869. Martha Jane Cairnes has just shot and killed her fiancé, Nicholas McComas, in front of his Union cavalry militia as they were celebrating the anniversary of the Confederate surrender at Appomattox.
To find out why she murdered him, the story steps back to 1865, six days after the surrender, when President Lincoln has just been killed by John Wilkes Booth. Booth belongs to the same Rebel militia as Martha’s hot-headed brother, who has gone missing along with the assassin. Martha is loyal to her brother, but in love with Nicholas McComas, a local hero of the Union cause—and their affair is fraught with echoes of the bloody conflict just ended.
Set six miles below the Mason-Dixon line, in a time when brothers fought on opposing sides and former slave-owners lived next door to abolitionists and freedmen, this is a compelling story rich with passion and tragedy, history and suspense.
Post Civil War tensions complicate the romance between an abolitionist's son and the spirited sister of a rebel sympathizer in Nixon's uneven latest (after Angels Go Naked). Four years after the war, in Jarrettsville, Md., Martha Cairnes kills her fianc , Nicholas McComas, and demands to be arrested and hanged. The narrative then moves backward to explain how the lovers came together: Martha falls for Nick even though he has a reputation as a scoundrel. Nick, meanwhile, thinks marriage is out of the question, especially after it's revealed that his father, killed under mysterious circumstances, has left behind a mountain of debt. Yet the two are soon engaged, and Martha's brother, who may have been involved in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, resents Nick's efforts to support three former Cairnes slaves, and a tangle of crossed loyalties wreak havoc on the engagement. Nixon tells the tale la Shadow Country, with a chorus of narrators, but here the variety of voices and the disparate narrative elements historical account, tragic romance, courtroom drama renders unclear what kind of story the author is trying to tell, and the riveting beginning is sabotaged by the restrained conclusion.