"The Battle of Idiot Creek is re-enacted, including Girl Scouts and a murder"
Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted April 23, 2020
Mystery Cozy | Mystery
In America, Civil War re-enactments are a popular form of entertainment, with battles staged over a long weekend. MUSKET BALL MURDER brings us to the middle of this fun. Merry Wrath, who used to be a spy under a different name, has settled in the small town of Who’s There, Iowa. The town is capitalizing on a minor skirmish over the creek, proudly named the Battle of Idiot Creek. And wherever Merry and her troop of earnest young Girl Scouts go, murder follows.
The Scouts are the funny part, of course; they are eager for grime and gore, dressing in nineteenth-century petticoats while keen to use weapons and help with the sawbones. I was a Girl Guide and we may have had ambitions to do more than the usual camping, but we weren’t let away with too much. These resourceful young ladies (some of whom must know Merry can’t tell them all apart yet) go from toasting marshmallows on the campfire to disguising themselves as boys to fight: “authentic!” is their excuse. Merry would never have brought them camping if she had known that some re-enactor was going to get carried away.
I have not read the previous adventures of this Scout Troop but I’ll certainly be looking for more. The writing is careful and clean, with plenty of attention to detail and perhaps more about the madness of getting into character than we want to know. Merry is an interesting character, retired from a precarious job with the CIA, but still running into people from her past. She tries not to show off her skills but sometimes doesn’t have a choice. If you are in need of a read about strong female sleuths this cosy mystery contains plenty of such ladies of various ages. At this point, Merry has married a local police officer, but in MUSKET BALL MURDER she doesn’t lean on her husband Rex Ferguson, mainly because the body she saw vanishes before she can get a witness. And the battlefield is full of people playing dead or groaning about wounds, so imagine the job she has convincing anyone.
There are now fourteen books in the Merry Wrath series and Leslie Langtry has also released eight books in the Bombay Assassins series and has begun another mystery series called Aloha Lagoon. If they are written as well as MUSKET BALL MURDER, I suggest that a newcomer can start anywhere and enjoy the read.
From USA Today bestselling author Leslie Langtry comes a Civil War reenactment, a missing body, and one ex-CIA agent turned Girl Scout Troop leader with hilarious results!
Merry Wrath has a problem. Her Girl Scout Troop co-leader has signed them up to participate in a Civil War reenactment based on the little-known Battle of Idiot Creek. In full 19th century costume, Merry is just hoping she can keep her troop out of trouble.
Unfortunately, things start to fall apart immediately—from the cannon the kids buy with her credit card, to one girl sneaking off at night to beat the other reenactors at poker, to avoiding a rumble between her troop and the haughty Magnolia Girls.
But things take a sharp turn for the worse when a real human leg appears in the pretend amputation tent…only to disappear while Merry's guarding it. The rest of the body doesn’t seem to exist, making Merry wonder if she’s losing her mind... or if there's a murderer among them. To complicate things, Merry's ex CIA handler, Riley, appears as a dashing cavalry officer investigating a real case, her married best friend is swooning over the Sam Elliot-like Provost, and during the battles, a tiny Union soldier appears to be running guerrilla ops that weren’t in the script.
With a group of soldiers threatening Merry, the Sheriff refuses to investigate, and the danger mounting, can Merry prove that there was a murder before the reenactment ends?
“Stop that!” Kelly shouted in her usual commanding ER nurse voice as I dodged a punch heading for my face before landing an uppercut on my attacker’s chin. “Make them stop fighting!”
Who was she talking to? Me? These guys had come out of nowhere and jumped me, so I was fairly certain that, other than pulling a cannon from my skirt, there was nothing I could do or say to stop them. The cannon thing would be cool though.
Since when did these self-proclaimed ”Southern gentlemen” attack women? It seemed very unchivalrous. And if I wasn’t holding my own, I’d tell them so. But presently, I needed my breath for something else. I drove my foot into the second guy’s gut. He flew backwards with a loud and somewhat satisfying ooomph.
Betty rolled her eyes as she droned in a dull, bored tone, “Hey, guys, stop getting your butts kicked by my super old Girl Scout leader.”
You try fighting off two thugs while wearing a hoop skirt and corset. I was starting to regret turning down Soo Jin’s idea of playing a man in this reenactment. It’s just that when an insanely beautiful woman suggests you might do better as a man, you get a little defensive and, in my case, go completely the other direction with lace overkill, silk petticoats, and big, bouncy curls (which were unhelpfully smacking me in the face).
The Kaitlyns shouted some slurs at the men. The four identical girls had wholeheartedly embraced the reenactment, always striving for true authenticity, from the cast iron curling irons we put in the fire every day to peeing in fields, in spite of the porta potties across from our tents. I knew they were trying for historical accuracy as they yelled, “Die Rebel scum,” but I was pretty sure that came from the Star Wars movies.
My earlier punch had barely registered on the large man in the gray wool uniform, so he grabbed my wrists. I twisted up and out of his grip and kicked the first guy sideways in the knee.
He went down hard, clasping his leg with a euphoric glee usually reserved for winning the lottery or being told by your doctor that you have to eat a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked ice cream every day for the rest of your life.
I’ve seen a lot of weird things in my past career as a spy, from a Yakuza boss’s dolphin who could play “Der Fledermaus” on an accordion, to a huge UFO lighting up the sky in remote Mongolia (yep, they’re real).
But these Civil War reenactors and their love of pain and suffering was beyond all that. Just this morning, a reenactor asked the organizers if there was any way possible he could die of dysentery…for real. And they actually considered his request.
Damn. The second attacker had regained his balance and, seeing his pal on the ground with a shattered knee, charged right at me. His large frame seemed to make the ground shake beneath my feet, and as I got into a defensive position, I wondered what the hell I’d been thinking when I’d agreed to take part in this reenactment.
One Week Earlier…
“A civil war reenactment?” I asked my co-leader. “You’re kidding.”
Kelly nodded eagerly. “Soo Jin is helping organize it. It’ll be the first one ever based on the Battle of Idiot Creek!”
Idiot Creek was considered to be the largest creek in the county. No one knows where the name came from (although one can guess), but in 1922, the Who’s There Upstanding and Righteous Ladies Society tried to have the name changed. When the County Board of Supervisors denied the request on the grounds that no one could come up with anything better (the record of that meeting was exactly five minutes and thirty seconds long, where they decided not to decide and then approved a long, liquid lunch break), the Ladies created a backstory.
According to these fine, stalwart, and obviously control freak women, it was named for the I-Dee-Oh-Ta Indian tribe that had lived in the area three hundred years ago. That lie lasted six months before The Des Moines Register, during a particularly slow news week, interviewed five college professors who specialized in Native American history. Each and every one of them said there was no such tribe, and one professor suggested that these women go back to their knitting.
Two days later, that same professor received a cherry pie from an anonymous source. After eating the whole thing, he had “dysentery” for three days. No one ever found out who sent the pie or why on earth he’d eat it in the first place, and the Who’s There Upstanding and Righteous Ladies Society gave up on their fake, Indian name story.
Kelly had dragged me out of my house and driven us here before giving me the news. We stood looking down at the tiny trickle of water that measured about four inches in width and two inches deep. I’d tossed a stick into it. One end hit the water, and it bounced to the side and landed on the grass, remaining 98% dry.
“Well.” Kelly shrugged. “It was a bit bigger then.”
“No.” I sighed. “It wasn’t.”
“Come on! You know the story of that battle.” Kelly clapped her hands with glee, and I wondered if I should be planning an intervention of some sort.
Growing up around these parts, everyone knew about the Battle of Idiot Creek. On May 31, 1865, a handful of Confederates, not realizing the war was over, got a bit confused. Thinking they were in Illinois, the Land of that Yankee scum (in their words) Lincoln, they made a last stand just outside of where that seething cesspool called Bladdersly (Who’s There’s biggest rival) is now. By the way, it should be noted that there weren’t any Union soldiers in Western Iowa at the time because, like I said, the war was over.
So a group of civilians, armed with pitchforks, a couple of muskets, and in one case, an elderly woman on crutches brandishing knitting needles, chased the Southerners back over Idiot Creek. In the end, it wasn’t the citizens who saved the day but a pet skunk named Orville.
According to the story, Reuben Murphy, the owner of the closest farm, had had a pet skunk named Orville, who had never been descented. He also had an unusual condition where, when he was excited, not only did he spray, but bubbling saliva erupted from his lips.
The skunk had encountered the Rebels, and when they didn’t give him a cookie, as Reuben did whenever he saw his pet, Orville got excited and began spraying the men while foaming at the mouth.
The Rebs believed they were being attacked by a rabid skunk and, thinking this was worse than a few townspeople with pitchforks and one pair of knitting needles, fled for their lives. They were eventually captured in Quincy, Illinois, where they learned that the war was over and vowed never to step foot in Iowa again.
When the festering hellscape called Bladdersly was founded ten years later, they erected a bronze statue to the hero of the Battle of Idiot Creek—Orville. It depicted the skunk, tail raised, with a spray of bronze droplets (attached to rusty wires) coming out of his butt, with lips bearded with foam. It’s the only thing I liked about the town.
“The reenactment is going to take place right here, and we’ve been invited to participate!” Kelly squealed.
She never squealed. Something was up.
“As I recall from class,” I pointed out, “the battle lasted a whole ten minutes before Orville arrived on the scene and saved the day.”
Kelly nodded. “I know, but they’re expanding it a bit to make it an event that will bring in tourists.”
I laughed. “How long can you make that stretch out? An hour?”
She shook her head, “Three days.”
“Three days?” My eyes widened, and I pointed to the largest creek in the county, which was currently in danger of completely evaporating under the hot, Iowa sun. “Over this?”
“Anyway,” Kelly continued, ignoring me, “they’ve invited the whole troop to participate!”
No way was this going to work out. “How are we going to do that? We don’t have costumes, let alone authentic equipment.”
“There’s a woman in Iowa City who has the costumes we can borrow.” Kelly held her hands up. “They’ve got kid clothes, tents, cooking supplies, everything.”
“It’s summer,” I insisted. “In Iowa. The weather will be miserable.”
Iowa was a state of two seasons—long, ungodly winters and an equally long, hot, and humid summer with a few days of spring and fall thrown in for good measure, just to give the impression of balance.
“That’s true,” Kelly agreed. “And we’ll have to live in authentic tents and cook over a fire.”
I shook my head. “I don’t care about the camping part. In fact, that’s the part I like.”
Little did I know, I’d soon come to regret those words.
I sighed. “So how long do we have? A month?”
Kelly frowned for the first time. “Try one week. The event was organized months ago, but we’ve just been invited to join in.”
“That’s weird,” I wondered. “Why did she invite us so late?”
Kelly shifted her feet, “Well, it’s more like I just found out about it and begged for an invite.”
“You did what?”
She checked her watch. “We’d better get going. I’ve called the girls. They’ll be at your house in five minutes.”
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