Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

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September 27, 2012

Andover native writes Civil War mystery

When a newspaperman turns author, chances are the novel will put the reader at the scene quickly and the story will move fast.

Author Mark Travis, an Andover native who is publisher of the Valley News of West Lebanon, N.H., certainly uses that writing approach in his new book. “Pliney Fiske, A Civil War Mystery” ($14.95) is Travis’ self-published book. Travis wastes no time getting the reader hooked as Fiske, an agent helping Civil War veterans get their pensions, is introduced in the novel’s opening sentence as “...scrambling out from under a rifle in his face.”

True to his newspaper reporting skills, Travis keeps the story pace moving as Fiske meets all sorts of characters while doing his job. Those people and their backgrounds fill these pages and it’s a slice of life showing Concord, N.H., circa July 1867.

“I was researching my other book, ‘My Brave Boys,’ which is nonfiction about the New Hampshire regiment in the war, and an idea came to mind,” Travis said. “I was doing research at the National Archives in Washington and came across these pension documents...just fascinating stuff.”

“It proved that people truly depended on pensions and there was a lot of pension bureauocracy back then,” Travis said.

So, “Pliney Fiske” was born. It’s not a true story. Travis said he used historical fragments and added his knowledgeable take on what was happening during the Civil War and after.

“Fiction lets you fill in the gaps,” he said. “I hope to reach a different audience than a nonfiction Civil War book might.”

One example is the name Pliney Fiske. It’s a real name found in Travis’ research travels. Fiske was a sign painter from Concord, N.H. Letters by a serving soldier report a feud between the the soldier and Fiske, because Fiske did not serve in the war, owed the soldier money and the soldier felt Fiske visited the soldier’s wife too often.

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