Jakes’s 15th historical (American Dreams, 1998, etc.) follows the Civil War through the eyes of four idealistic gentlefolk, from both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, whose crisscrossing paths teach them that espionage is not a genteel game for amateurs but a savage battle lacking rules of engagement.
Lon Price, Pinkerton Agency detective, promised his dying father he’d pursue the abolitionist cause, so he happily becomes a Union spy when Pinkerton makes his organization the North’s secret service. Meanwhile, Margaret Miller, a Washington, D.C., debutante, fervently takes up the secessionist cause as an undercover courier after her unarmed father is gunned down by Union operatives. Hanna Siegal, whose father had always wished for a soldier son, binds her breasts and sneaks off to war for the Union. And Captain Fred Dasher is a West Point officer turned Confederate whose conscience chastises him for abandoning the oath he swore, in times of peace, to protect the Union. Each of these people, in his or her own way, romanticizes the war as a struggle of principle—until experience cruelly challenges their perspectives: Lon’s, for example, when his partner is shot dead in a row over a toothpick. The characters are left to find their ways through times ruled not always by their own celebrated principles but by the terrors of a bloody and brutal war. Further challenges to their principles come when love—first between Union Lon and Confederate Margaret—weakens their resolve to maintain the ideological and geographical boundaries they once fought so hard to erect.
An absorbing study of how human affairs stubbornly fall outside the simplistic categories of "right" and "wrong," but probably best suited to those with a yen for Civil War and early Secret Service history.