THE WIDOW’S WAR by Mary Mackey


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A feisty abolitionist journeys to pre-Civil War Kansas in search of her lover and defies a band of pro-slavery marauders led by a psychopath.

Mackey (The Notorious Mrs. Winston, 2007, etc.) doesn’t give her heroine the genteel upbringing typical of a young lady circa 1853. Raised in Brazil by her explorer/ entrepreneur/botanist father, Carrie Vinton befriends escaped African slaves and is a crack shot. Her beloved since childhood days in Kentucky is physician William Saylor, who runs a blockade in Rio during a smallpox epidemic to treat Carrie’s dying father. Then the lovers are stricken, and Carrie wakes up in a convent hospital to find that no one can tell her of William’s fate. Her late father has left her an immense fortune, and William has left her pregnant. She succumbs to the blandishments of Deacon Presgrove, a smooth-talking former actor who arrives in Rio to inform her that his stepbrother William did indeed perish in the epidemic. Newly wed to Deacon, the son of rabid pro-slavery senator Bennet Presgrove, Carrie gives birth aboard a Washington-bound ship, but her premature baby dies. In the capital, Deacon promptly reveals his true colors: not only does he endorse slavery, he himself owns a slave, a young prostitute in a nearby bordello. Deacon has also usurped Carrie’s fortune and perpetrated a fake obituary of her that led William (that’s right, he’s alive too) to head for Kansas, a territory now embroiled in violent clashes over whether it will become a slave or free state. Carrie follows, and from here the plot hews faithfully to historical incident, detailing battles between slavers and abolitionists. (John Brown and his sons are among the latter, dispatching slaveholders with broadswords.) Despite the author’s efforts to enliven things with Clark, a homicidal nutcase hired by Deacon, the Kansas section devolves into predictable adventure-romance, not helped by disconcertingly contemporary diction.

Ambitious in premise, formulaic in execution.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-425-22791-6
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Berkley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2009


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