Thau’s debut is a rip-roaring historical thriller set in Theodore Roosevelt’s America.
It’s the first decade of the last century. Theodore Roosevelt has just become president in the wake of William McKinley’s assassination at the hands of a disgruntled Pole, Leon Czolgosz, and Roosevelt has big plans; he wants to build the nation’s Navy, project American power abroad and re-establish the United States as a major player on the world stage. But there are those who plot his demise—anarchists who think the national interests Roosevelt promotes are little more than a pretext for exploiting the working poor. With the future of the country hanging in the balance, an unlikely pair race across the landscape, fleeing for their lives. Matthew Stanton—disguised as a priest—runs from those who would pin the last president’s death on him. And Alyssa Harding, née Coolidge, strives to escape the clutches of her sadistic husband, whom she married, it seems, only to fulfill her mother’s dying wish. As their lives collide on a Chicago-bound train, both are thrust into an unlikely struggle against anarchists, police officers, politicians and unhinged Wall Street barons. However, the greatest strength of Thau’s tale is not its fantastical excess, but its absolute plausibility. His historical fiction holds up to scrutiny, and he gives his story the look and feel of turn-of-the-century America. Similarly, his protagonists are eccentric but believable. The gorgeous Alyssa is no mere distressed damsel, and the mysterious Matthew is a clever update on that old stock figure, the man-with-a-past. Both these two, and a supporting cast of dozens, come to life with the help of Thau’s vibrant but thoroughly economical prose. He uses his words more carefully than early 20th-century stock speculators spent their money, and his novel reaps the profits.
A gripping, literate page-turner.