Becoming the First

Book Review of “Girl in Disguise” by Greer Macallister.

11384-girl2bin2bdisguise2Kate Warne – I’m sure that name means nothing to you. On the other hand, you may have heard of the name Pinkerton. Today that name mostly brings to mind security services, like their armored cars. However, in the mid-19th century, Allan Pinkerton started a detective agency in Chicago, and in 1856, he hired Kate Warne as his first female detective. With the little information left about Warne and her escapades, Macallister weaves a story of intrigue and mystery in her latest historical fiction novel.

Having read Macallister’s first novel “The Magician’s Lie” I believed I already knew what kind of writing to expect with this novel. Mind you, sometimes a second work by an author whose debut gets quite a bit of hype, can be a disappointment. Thankfully, this was not the case with this novel. In fact, the things that prevented me from giving Macallister’s first book five stars are found nowhere in this novel. There are no hints of magical realism, and the ending feels real and strong. What we do get is a impressively told story where Macallister pulls her readers into the story and leads them along just the right paths, which were exactly the things I loved about Macallister’s previous book. Furthermore, Macallister once again draws a character in which we can immediately identify, and care about. That Warne was a real person must have made developing her character all the richer, even though many of the facts surrounding some of her Pinkerton cases were lost in the Chicago Fire. Of course, I assume Macallister felt something of an obligation to include those few, remaining well-documented jobs, such as the role (most historians believe) she played in assuring Abraham Lincoln reached Washington safely for his inauguration.

I’ve often thought that an over abundance of facts can sometimes constrict historical fiction writers and force them to incorporate too many of them in such novels. This also means that if an author takes too much poetic license with the truth, they risk the ire of purists. I’m sure then, that for Macallister in this case, the lack of facts about Warne must have been something of a blessing. She knew that Warne was a widow, but nothing about her husband. She knew that Warne wasn’t unattractive, but she was hardly beautiful (from the pictures she found). Of course, she knew that Warne was a pioneer and because of that, Warne must have been exceptionally smart and fast witted. Obviously, how could Warne have been anything less to succeed as the first woman in this man’s world of detecting? All this allowed Macallister to take this skeleton of facts, and add not only flesh and bones, but also a heart and a soul.

What I’m trying to say here is that this book is downright amazing, and I’m having a hard time calming my enthusiasm for this novel to write an objective review. With all those elements of the facts (and lack thereof) in place, together with Macallister’s vivid imagination and compelling writing style, we get an adventure story that pulls you in and keeps you fascinated until the last word. In fact, the only thing that I found to be just the very slightest bit unlikely was when Pinkerton didn’t want to use Warne as a spy during the Civil War. However, I am willing to overlook this, since it is possible Macallister added that to make Pinkerton look selfish and overprotective. Furthermore, Macallister gives us a character study that is undeniably realistic, containing all of Warne’s most incredible qualities, while building her into a woman who is at the same time imperfect and vulnerable. It should therefore be no surprise that I’m giving this novel a full five stars (watch for this one to be included in my “best of 2017” list), and highly recommend it.


“Girl in Disguise” by Greer Macallister published by Sourcebooks Landmark (release date March 22, 2017) is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Walmart (Kobo) eBooks and audiobooks, the website, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), Wordery, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literacy) as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. 

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