Saturday, December 22, 2012

'The Hour of Peril'

When it comes to non-fictional tales of war, this Book Hog generally can't get through them.  But when it comes to real-life mysteries, I squee all the way home...especially if the story is well written and holds my interest.

And so it is with Edgar award-winner Daniel Stashower's new book, 'The Hour of Peril'.  Although Mr. Stashower, author of 'The Beautiful Cigar Girl', and 'Teller of Tales', a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle, knows his 'stuff' and isn't afraid to show it, I was almost afraid that he might hit a bump in the road with his newest book.

But, once again, I was wrong.  Happily wrong.

'The Hour of Peril' is the story of Allan Pinkerton, founder of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency.  I was pleased to read about Pinkerton's early life and just what influenced him to start a detective agency.  He had an eye for talent, and his employees were faithful, discreet, and good at their jobs.  

But when a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln is discovered, Pinkerton is soon embroiled in one of the most difficult cases of his career.

It is the eve of the Civil War, and Lincoln has just been elected president.  On the way to Washington D.C., a plot to assassinate him when he reaches Baltimore, Maryland is discovered.  Pinkerton warns Lincoln, who doesn't seem too concerned.  But the closer the train gets to Baltimore, the urgency becomes very apparent to the president-elect.  

Pinkerton sends not only a few good men to infiltrate the plot, but he also sends in Kate Warne, his first female detective.  When some of these detectives are at the point of having their covers blown, you sweat right along with them as they use their wits to avoid detection.  Their various methods of communication fascinated me.

But it is Lincoln who soon takes center stage.  A man of warm humor and sharp wit, he at first seems quite lackadaisical about the plot.  But Pinkerton manages to describe the danger that is just around the corner, and the president finally comes to understand that some people would rather kill him than to see the United States become a slave-free country.

'The Hour of Peril' is certainly one of the great untold stories of the Civil War era.  Pinkerton took a huge gamble (and was embroiled in a major controversy) in foiling the plot.  Such a well-written, suspenseful and educational story is being published at a very good time; 'Lincoln', the film starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the president, is stirring up great interest in everything Lincoln.

Although some of the book was a bit slow-moving, I stayed faithful to the storyteller and closed the book having learned a great deal about an incident of which not too many people are aware.  Thanks to Allan Pinkerton and a host of brave people, our republic avoided a major catastrophe.

'The Hour of Peril' should appeal to not only fans of Civil War history, but also mystery lovers. 

'The Hour of Peril' will be released in February 2013 by Minotaur Books, a division of St. Martin's Press. 

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