Van Steenwyk introduces Kate Warne, whose determined skill secured her spot in U.S. history as the country’s first woman detective.
In 1856, the enterprising young white woman persuaded Allan Pinkerton, head of the country’s pre-eminent detective agency, to hire her. Warne convinced Pinkerton that a woman could gain access to situations and information that male detectives couldn’t. As a detective, Warne used disguises and false identities at social events. In fancy gowns and, sometimes, disguised as a fortuneteller, Warne gained the confidences of wives of businessmen and politicians. In 1860, Pinkerton learned of a rumored plot to assassinate President-elect Lincoln in Baltimore, en route from Illinois to his inauguration in Washington. Pinkerton assigned Warne an important role in thwarting the assassination. She infiltrated a Baltimore group called the Golden Circle, confirming the plot. While Pinkerton informed the president, Kate warned one of Lincoln’s confidants. Van Steenwyk succinctly details the elaborate counterplan, in which Lincoln altered his multicity itinerary and even donned a disguise himself to throw off the hunt. Warne rose at Pinkerton, directing both male and female detectives and heading the agency’s Washington office during the Civil War. In contrast to crisp text, Belloni’s stylized illustrations are a digital miasma of cartoon colors, layered textures, and Disney-fied features and gowns. Eyes, especially, are large, dilated, and kittenish.
Sadly, Van Steenwyk’s affirming narrative and important subject are matched with out-of-sync art. (note, bibliography) (Informational picture book. 5-8)