Monday, February 22, 2016

Nonfiction Monday: Lincoln's Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton, America's First Private Eye by Samantha Seiple

I couldn't put this down. Well, I mean I could - I had to because I was reading it during my lunch minutes, but I zipped through it as fast as possible and can't wait to recommend it to absolutely everyone.

Starting with his humble origins as a cooper, Seiple tells the story of Pinkerton's rise to fame as America's first private detective, including his work as the head of a network of spies during the Civil War and his last battle with the James outlaws.

The book opens with a helpful list of characters, including the Pinkerton agency and their rogues' gallery. An epilogue explains the changes in the Pinkerton agency after Pinkerton's death and how it became a well-known security agency after ups and downs over the years. Source notes and an index are also included, as are black and white photographs throughout the book.

This was absolutely riveting. Seiple doesn't exaggerate or dramatize Pinkerton's life, but she writes a fast-paced narrative that grabs the reader from beginning to end, encapsulating the different major cases of Pinkerton's life and adding insights into his character, operatives, and the historical context. There is a certain amount of death and violence but it's presented truthfully without gratuitous graphic details. Seiple includes Pinkerton's female operatives, another first, and gives generous page-time to these overlooked historical figures. Readers will breathlessly follow Pinkerton's exploits as he protects Lincoln from potential assassination, his operatives track down spies and information during the Civil War, sometimes with tragic results, and Pinkerton's sons attempt to track down the James band of outlaws.

I have to wonder if other reviewers actually read the book. Usually, I skim other reviews to see what others thought and while I could see disagreement in Seiple's prose (some reviewers find her bland while my patrons and I love her matter-of-fact and brisk delivery) some things mentioned in the reviews are just....wrong. One says there is no index. Uh, yeah, there is, it's five pages long! Another says it's classified as a fiction novel. Um....where is it classified as that? It's definitely nonfiction, with plenty of original sources and notes. This annoyed me.

Verdict: I can definitely sell this to kids on its own; read about the first private detective in America, his network of spies, and how they saved Lincoln's life! Even better, it's a great tie-in to Kate Hannigan's novel, The Detective's Assistant, which focuses on Pinkerton's first female operative. I have lots of fans of Hannigan's zippy prose, breathtaking adventure, and extras and they will be thrilled to read the real story behind the story. I Survived fans ready to move on to more challenging titles would be a good audience for this as well. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780545708975; Published 2015 by Scholastic; Purchased for the library

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