A young lady’s maid is witness to Benedict Arnold and his wife’s treachery in this fictional account set during the American War for Independence. This is the first novel from Pataki, daughter of former New York State Governor George E. Pataki.
In a well-balanced narrative that interweaves historical detail with the lives of servant Clara Bell and her employers, Peggy Shippen Arnold and her husband, Pataki successfully captures an infamous act in American history. Following the death of her grandmother, Clara is received in the prominent Shippen home in Philadelphia, where she serves socialite sisters Betsy and Peggy. Peggy, the self-centered, calculating, beautiful sister, immediately dominates Clara’s time. She’s besotted with a British officer and is sympathetic to the loyalist cause—at least until the British flee the city and a rough-hewn colonial military governor, Benedict Arnold, arrives. Arnold, though much older and lame, represents social prominence to Peggy, and he falls for her manipulative wiles and showers her with goods he’s confiscated from British merchants. After they’re married, though, Peggy discovers Arnold can barely sustain the lifestyle she desires. He’s used much of his own wealth to pay his troops, and he’s yet to be reimbursed. Additionally, Arnold soon faces charges brought by his rival, the governor of Pennsylvania. Although most charges are dismissed, Arnold’s angry and believes he’s been treated unjustly. Peggy, ever the opportunist, recognizes a chance for monetary gain and seeks to reconnect with former lover John André, now head of British Intelligence. Although her husband initially resists, she convinces him to seek a commanding position at West Point, which paves the way for their ultimate act of treason. Clara is horrified as she observes the scheme unfold—she is, after all, a lowly servant who must worry about her future—but she’s also a patriot who does her best to foil the plot. Those familiar with U.S. history may already know how Arnold’s saga unfurls, but the author’s interpretation of events offers fresh perspective, plenty of intrigue and a host of interesting, multidimensional characters.
Benedict Arnold isn’t a name that’s popular among patriotic Americans, but Pataki delivers an admirable book focused on the betrayal.