An atmosphere of distrust and subterfuge pervaded the Colonies on the eve of war.
In brisk, tense chapters, Meltzer (The Escape Artist, 2018, etc.) and documentary TV producer Mensch relate a tale of spies and treason, conspiracy and counterintelligence at the start of the colonists’ war against Britain. Using present tense, the authors create a sense of immediacy and peril: Patriots are being hastily formed into a ragtag, rowdy army; the British, with its incomparable navy, are mounting a well-orchestrated campaign, sending hundreds of ships to assail Manhattan; and the clock, as clocks do in such thrillers, is ticking. Central to the convoluted plot is the fate of George Washington, portrayed by the authors as a paragon of leadership and perfection: “perfect poise, perfect manners, perfect horsemanship, perfect appearance.” He faces a population of “divided loyalties and shifting allegiances…ripe for treachery, spying, and double-crossing.” Farmers and townsfolk are lured into fighting for the king and conveying secret information. New York Gov. William Tryon and the city’s mayor, David Mathews, are conspirators, Tryon masterminding treachery from aboard a British ship docked in New York’s harbor. Shocked by rumors, Washington decides to assemble an elite band of soldiers enjoined to protect him. Their nickname was the Life Guards. In addition, he convenes “a dedicated team who can uncover the enemies’ secret activities,” learn their plans, and thwart them. The secret Committee of Intestine Enemies, the authors assert, will become, two centuries later, the CIA: “the domain of dedicated agencies with well-trained experts and sophisticated technologies.” As rudimentary as it was, however, Washington’s clandestine committee ferreted out important information: Among turncoats were members of Washington’s Life Guards and, astonishingly, his housekeeper. The authors acknowledge that some elements of the plot remain mysterious: Washington’s housekeeper, for example, left his employ suddenly, but no records point to her involvement. Nevertheless, the conspiracy is foiled, and in July 1776, Washington’s public reading of the Declaration of Independence finally energizes his soldiers.
A lively political thriller.