Death Piled Hard: A Tale of the Confederate Secret Services by W. Patrick Lang is the sequel to The Butcher’s Cleaver and begins shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg, presumably where the previous book left off. The reader follows Claude Devereux as he brings the body of his brother home from the war. Devereux is an officer in the Federal army, assigned to Secretary of War Stanton, and a confident of President Lincoln. Unbeknownst to the Federal high command, Devereux is actually a member of the Confederate Secret Service and is gathering information on Federal war plans.

Devereux’s cousin, Major John Balthazar of the French Army soon comes to Washington and with Devereux’s assistance secretly crosses the line into the Confederacy as an official observer of the French government.

After the Battle of Rappahannock Station, Balthazar is given command of a Confederate battalion. The story continues through the Overland Campaign, following Balthazar and Devereux, who has made his way to Grant’s Headquarters.

In spite of the book’s subtitle, this is mostly a story about Balthazar’s battalion and its combat actions. Unfortunately, I did not find the combat descriptions as gripping as I might have. This was especially true of the description of the fighting at the Mule Shoe, during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House where some of the most savage fighting of the war occurred. I do not think the author was able to properly portray the intensity of the fighting there. This was better portrayed in Donald McCaig’s Jacob’s Ladder.

For the most part, I liked the characterizations and the dialogue, however it did not seem like the story was going anywhere. The reader followed Balthazar and Devereux through the Overland Campaign and things happened but there did not seem to be any focus, perhaps this is due to the book being the middle book of three. It should be noted that I have not read The Butcher’s Cleaver. However, I thought Mr. Lang did a good job of summarizing the previous book throughout so that this book could be read on its own.

Even with the minimal plot, I was still enjoying the book until about the last 50 pages. At that point, the author shifted the focus of the story to a new location and introduced a slew of new characters that were at most tangentially related to the other characters in the book. Balthazar and Devereux disappeared until the final four pages where a presumed third book was set up.

I do not believe I will be making any effort to find the next book in this series.

I received a review copy of this book from Rosemont books.