Thursday, June 2, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Girl in Disguise

Move over Abby, Sarah, and all the other women in shows like "NCIS" and "CSI," because Kate Warne is on the case. Need a lock picked? A suspect followed? A kidnap victim found? Then Kate is the woman for you. The fact that this novel is based on a real person makes it even more intriguing. In this day of photos and images of people available from so many sources (everything from cell phones to CCTV cameras), it seems odd to us that there are no existing photos of Kate. And it is even stranger that as the first female Pinkerton agent and someone who collected facts and secrets for a living, she has left so few facts behind about herself. Luckily, Greer Macallister has stepped in to create an amazing story full of the cases she was known to have worked and other period details. 

In Girl in Disguise, Kate is the daughter of an actor and his wife. What better preparation for someone working undercover as a detective? And her family traveled throughout the United States as her father took on roles in various theaters, so she knows all about how to pack quickly and how to survive as a newcomer in a strange town. (Another great skill to have.) The fact that her feckless husband has died and left her destitute only means that she is very motivated to get and keep the job. So, despite the fact that there are no female agents, and in the face of unwelcoming and even hostile attitudes from the male agents, she becomes the first woman to work for Pinkerton.

What follows that momentous decision to apply for the job and prove herself capable, is a fascinating look at life in the mid-nineteenth century. Instead of cellphones and Internet, there are telegrams and handwritten reports. No prosthetic masks a la "Mission Impossible," just spirit gum and make up. And the most important asset is the detective herself as she assumes roles to blend in at all levels of society. She impersonates prostitutes, meek housewives, and social butterflies. Often working alone, she solves crimes ranging from embezzlement to murder. Along the way she encounters many of the famous names of the time period such as Allan Pinkerton (of course), Abraham Lincoln, and Rose Greenhow. 

The author has taken the few facts we have about Kate's career (many records were lost in the Great Chicago Fire), and woven them together with the turbulent time period to create a story that brings Kate to life. She is not perfect, nor is she a saint. But she shines from the pages as a woman of strength and determination, one who is unwilling to let her gender or mistakes from the past stop her. Just imagine how odd it was back then to be a single career woman, even if you were a widow. Although there are a few touches of romance, the book focuses on her career, just as Kate did in real life.

If you enjoy historical fiction based on real people such asGirl Waits with Gun, or pure historical fiction like the Mary Handley mysteries (Second Street Station and Brooklyn on Fire), then you should fall completely in love with Girl in Disguise

I received an advance copy from the publisher for review purposes.

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