AMERICAN FALLS by John Calvin Batchelor
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Giant Civil War historical about the birth of the Secret Service and its rival, the Confederate Secret Service, set against Niagara Falls and the aborted New York uprising during the War's final year, featuring a ton of evocative description; by the author of the ambitious The Further Adventures of Halley's Comet (1980) and The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica (1983). The reader is soon plunged into a formidably encyclopedic presentation of the winding down of the Civil War and of the South's last efforts to achieve a stalemate/victory by provoking the secession of a second Confederacy of Northwest states. Confederate guerrillas, operating out of Canada, have attacked St. Albans in Vermont and have been robbing Northern banks to fund their hopelessly mad Northwest Conspiracy in simultaneous maritime attacks on Chicago, Buffalo and other large Northern cities, coupled with terrorist incendiarism in New York, all of this set for Election Day, 1864. The Suspension Bridge at Niagara Falls, guarded by Colored Union soldiers, is the scene of much Confederate Secret Service traffic between Southerners in Canada and their fellow spies in the North. Top Confederate spy in Canada is John C. Oliphant, a wealthy Northern-born Southern landowner who speculates successfully (or profiteers) on the New York stock exchange, holds a large sum of Southern gold in his power--and has lost his little faith in the Southern purpose or any hopes of winning the war. He's not a bit sympathetic to the Northwest Conspiracy, and later in New York refuses to give gold to fund the tremendous incendiarism planned for Election Eve (New York hates the Draft, the colored, and Lincoln, and is more Copperhead than Union). Meanwhile, Oliphant is being sought in New York by Capt. Amaziah Butter, a horse-soldier who has been given nominal charge of the federal Secret Service in New York and has stumbled onto the Northwest Conspiracy. In a satirical triumph, Batchelor casts the real head of the New York Secret Service as Butter's assistant, a black genius named Gouverneur Nevers, who in his magnificent omniscience steals every page on which he appears. As it must, the story returns to Suspension Bridge for a storm-swept climax under the Falls. The novel's attractive density can only be suggested here as well as its enormous cast of fine-drawn, supple human beings (among the best is Col. Lafayette C. Baker, triple-dealing head of the Secret Service), its wittiness and fantastic attention to mood and texture in clammy waiting rooms, War rooms, superbly rendered New York hotels, restaurants, streets, and those byways, cubbies and organ lofts that only a Secret Service agent would sneak into for his spying. A skintight recreation of the Civil War cosmos.

Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 1985
Publisher: Norton