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O'Toole's The Cosgrove Report was a mildly diverting historical whimsy centering on the Lincoln assassination--with the bulk of the novel consisting of a pseudo-authentic, rediscovered manuscript. This time, however, though the format is similar (here we're supposedly reading an 1836 manuscript written by the hero's real-life son), the effect is more arch than entertaining, with reams of irritating footnotes merely highlighting the thinness of the plot. It's 1781, the American Revolution is close to victory--but the patriots' French allies learn that there is a traitor among the American ministers: someone code-named ""Moses"" is leaking secrets to the British, and all evidence points to. . . Benjamin Franklin himself. So the Chevalier de Lawless of La Brigade Irlandaise (one of those Irish-French known as ""Wild Geese"") is ordered to sleuth out the definitive identity of traitor ""Moses."" Along the way, however, Lawless is captured by the British, is barely saved from hanging, and falls in love with the lovely Janie. Still, he does close in on Franklin--gathering evidence that BF has some blackmail-able secret involving the notorious Hellfire Club (orgies, Satanism), indulging in cat-and-mouse conversations with BF himself. And finally, to no one's surprise, Janie is rescued from the Satanists, the real traitor is fingered, and Franklin is revealed as a triple-agent, a loyal patriot. The point here, then, is not the see-through plot, but rather its historical trimmings: cameos by Beaumar-chais, by the Chevalier d'Eon (famous for his/her sexual ambiguity); documentary asides; scenes at the French and English courts. So, for those who dote on scholarly interruptions and erudite foolishness, this may be a source of slight drollery. For all others: a literate mock-period piece.

Pub Date: July 7th, 1982
Publisher: Delacorte