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On secret service : a novel (edition 2000)
by John Jakes
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0451204050, Mass Market Paperback)John Jakes is to historical American fiction what Stephen King is to horror: a one-man industry. Jakes, the author of over 60 books, including the eight-part Kent Family Chronicles, the North and South Trilogy, and innumerable short stories of the American West, returns to his well-trod Civil War stomping grounds in the engrossing On Secret Service. The story of a war within a war on various levels--the North v. the South, the Union's Pinkerton Detective Agency v. the Confederacy's agent provocateurs, youthful idealism v. youthful lust--On Secret Service chronicles the lives and times of four young Americans, from the war's early tremors in January 1861, through its bloody conclusion, Lincoln's assassination, and John Wilkes Booth's murder in May 1865.
The main players are Lon Price, the ardent abolitionist and rising-star operative of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and Margaret Miller, the beautiful, initially vacuous daughter of the South whose chief concern is that the war be over quickly so as not to interfere with Washington's upcoming social season. After a chance encounter in a Washington park, they are as repulsed by each other's political views as they are drawn together by an undeniable physical chemistry. As hostilities increase, the Pinkertons are pledged to the service of the Union and Lon becomes, ipso facto, a charter member in the U.S. Secret Service. When Margaret's stridently pro-slavery father is gunned down by a Pinkerton operative at a clandestine "Secesh" meeting, Margaret throws off her socialite mantle and vows revenge. She pledges allegiance to the South's most notorious female spy, the wealthy, well-connected, and equally well-endowed Rose Greenhow.
A parallel relationship develops between Margaret's unlikely best friend, the boyishly slight Hanna Siegel, a devout abolitionist who longs to prove herself on the battlefield, and the conflicted Captain Frederick Dasher, late of West Point, now of the First Virginia Cavalry, and protégé to Brigadier General "Jeb" Stuart. Played out before a scrim of battles, lives, fortunes, and reputations won and irreparably lost, Lon, Margaret, Hanna, and Fred cat-and-mouse their way through America's costliest war.
While the respective outcomes are somewhat predictable, what is not predictable is the degree to which the reader is captivated by Jakes's encyclopedic command of historical fact and his unmatched storytelling. The mingling of well-drawn fictional characters with nicely fleshed-out historical figures raises to rare levels circumstances that would, in lesser hands, seem mere contrivances. --Michael Hudson
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:52:16 -0400)
The shadow war between the Secret Services of the Federal and Confederate governments provides the backdrop for this story. Jakes, as usual, adroitly interweaves a cast of fictional and historical characters, placing them in historical places and events. His research is more than cursory; however, it does seem that the Confederates are a bit more nasty, more villainous, than their Federal counterparts. Michael Kramer's steady voice moves the exciting plot, with all of its twists and turns, at an even pace. He is especially good with the narrative portions. Whether he's describing drunken soldiers in Washington or the New York City Draft Riots of 1863, one can picture the action taking place. Vocal characterizations are, in the main, competent, with male Northerners the strongest and female Southerners the weakest.
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