A team races to expose a document that could rewrite our understanding of American history.
Richardson makes his assured fiction debut with a thriller that questions the actions of one of America’s most towering figures. When Matt Hawkins, an antiques dealer in Savannah, Georgia, finds a diary hidden inside an old atlas, he has no idea that it will reveal that George Washington wrote a letter of surrender during the darkest days of the Revolutionary War. The letter was drafted but never reached its intended recipient, thereby allowing the Americans to continue their fight and claw back to victory. Hawkins realizes the implications of this revelation and enlists the help of a local scholar and her history-buff father to help him investigate the diary’s claims and eventually go searching for the letter. At the same time, a rising presidential candidate whose lineage traces directly back to George Washington has staked his campaign on the image of the founding father. When his operatives learn of Hawkins’ discovery, they dispatch ruthless agents to ensure the documents never become public. The two parties meet with predictably explosive consequences, setting up a few memorable set pieces and giving the story a welcome shot of adrenaline. The narrative toggles between the present and past, revealing the circuitous path the letter took as the main characters gather clues to determine its final resting place. Anyone familiar with the recent glut of historical revisionist thrillers will find a lot that is familiar in Richardson’s novel, but that doesn't diminish the simple pleasure of a well-told story. This one is complete with genre touchstones like a dashing academic, a deformed villain, a charmingly rumpled hero and a secretive society. The novel is consistently exciting, even if the stakes never feel quite as high as the characters insist, and it’s not until late in the story that it begins to bend its own rules to the breaking point. Readers will find a page-turning read filled with likable characters and enough real history to make it all feel believable. This could signal the arrival of a welcome new voice in the genre.
A fun read from an author worth watching.