Monday, October 9, 2017

Girl in Disguise - Greer Macallister

Summary: For the first female Pinkerton detective, respect is hard to come by. Danger, however, is not.

In the tumultuous years of the Civil War, the streets of Chicago offer a woman mostly danger and ruin-unless that woman is Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective and a desperate widow with a knack for manipulation.

Descending into undercover operations, Kate is able to infiltrate the seedy side of the city in ways her fellow detectives can't. She's a seductress, an exotic foreign medium, or a rich train passenger, all depending on the day and the robber, thief, or murderer she's been assigned to nab.

Inspired by the real story of Kate Warne, this spirited novel follows the detective's rise during one of the nation's greatest times of crisis, bringing to life a fiercely independent woman whose forgotten triumphs helped sway the fate of the country. (Summary and pic from

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: I was super excited to get this book. I am really digging historical fiction these days, and historical fiction about women—especially real women in history—is especially awesome. So I had high hopes for this book.

What this book was: This book was a fun compilation of anecdotes about Kate Warne, the first female detective. She worked for the Pinkerton Agency, which is super cool and provides fine fodder for all sorts of fun reading by itself, but to have a female agent in their employ was also awesome. It was really cool to read about the various situations Kate was able to be in since she was a woman, and it made for some good stories about a female and male detective working together, as well. It wasn’t a simple time for this to be happening, as you might imagine, and so seeing the different ways the supporting actors reacted served as a platform for the time period’s sentiment about women working this kind of job. I enjoyed the cameos of the day, i.e. Abraham Lincoln, although not a lot is actually known about Kate Warne so many of the anecdotes were made up or fleshed out in order to make a story. Because of the anecdotal nature of the book, it felt somewhat disjointed, especially at the beginning. Each chapter was basically a new situation, not necessarily a case, and sometimes months or years had passed. It made for somewhat awkward reading, although the writing was simple enough that it was easy to keep track of what was going on. As the book went on, Macallister seemed to be more in her element, and she hit her stride, which made for smoother reading and transitions and a richer story. I enjoyed the last third of this book a lot more than I enjoyed the first two.

What this book was not: This was not a detailed life of Kate Warne, which I found to be disappointing. As mentioned previously, not a lot was actually known about her, whether because of her own lack of record keeping or the destruction of records of the Pinkerton agents in order to protect them, so there was not very much biographical information told about her. Much of the conversation and situations were also conjecture, and so I can’t help but think that the Kate Warne is this book may not actually match the real Kate Warne. We may never know. This book also wasn’t a discussion of the deep inner workings of the Pinkerton Agency, although there was some information about Alan Pinkerton and his home life, some of which is probably also conjecture. Macallister did create some fun and interesting anecdotes, but due to the nature of the information available and the lack of actual deep discussion of Kate Warne, I would say that this is loosely based on Kate Warne, and just more of a historical fiction in general. The writing itself isn’t fantastic, and it read almost like a YA novel. It is promoted as a book club book and I can see how it would provide some good discussion on broad topics such as women in a traditionally man’s job, especially during the time this book took place. Because the writing isn’t really complex or literary, it would be easy to read for a wide variety of audiences, and I can see how many women in my own book club would enjoy it.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book was clean. I would feel comfortable reading it with my church book club.

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