Following the lives of two couples separated by war and conflicting allegiances, the author of the New York Times bestselling North and South trilogy chronicles the Civil War from its onset to Lincoln ' s assassination
The author of the bestselling North and South trilogy remains in familiar territory as his latest sweeping historical novel retells the story of the Civil War, and also examines specific aspects of espionage, the development of the Secret Service and the controversies surrounding the Lincoln presidency and assassination. The chaos and drama of romantic love, also figure in the saga, centering on two young couples: Lon Price, a fledgling member of the newly founded Pinkerton agency, encounters beautiful actress Margaret Miller while investigating the secessionist movement, and Confederate lieutenant Frederick Dasher suffers a largely unrequited love for Miller's friend Hanna Siegel, also an actress and a secessionist. The Price/Miller pairing is by far the more interesting of the two, especially as Jakes explores the evolution of Pinkerton's secret service and how it linked with and diverged from the government's efforts to infiltrate the Confederate Army. Most of the scenes take place in and around Washington, and Jakes spreads himself a bit thin by covering the entire war rather than focusing exclusively on a smaller number of clandestine campaigns. The author saves the best for last in dealing with Lincoln's assassination, bringing the drama to life by giving each of his protagonists a crucial role as the conspiracy unfolds with expert pacing and suspense. Jakes uncovers the little-known history of espionage and counterespionage during the War Between the States with his signature combination of meticulous research and epic narrative, once again proving himself the foremost historical novelist of our national conflict in a title marking his 50th year as a professional writer. (June) Copyright 1997-2005 Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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March 31, 2001
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Excerpt from On Secret Service by John Jakes
We must be near Galena already," Lon said with a look at the closed door of the baggage car. "Nothing's happened."
"Wait," his partner said. Sledge sat on a crated shipment, legs stuck out, the payroll bag between his heels. His boots were dirty and scarred. Lon's were spotless except for a few streaks of slush. Around the office they called him Gentleman Lon because of his manners and neatness. He out-Englished the English operatives, of which there were several.
The Chicago & Galena express was traveling northwest, toward Dubuque across the Mississippi. Adams Express paid almost four hundred dollars a month to rent space in the line's baggage cars. Its competitor, American Express, had similar arrangements, necessary because trains were favorite targets of thieves, and their routes crossed the territories of a legion of sheriffs who were crooks, bunglers, or both. Lon Price's agency had contracts with both express companies and a group of six rail lines who together put up ten thousand dollars a year for protection for their real estate and rolling stock.
Lon and his partner were replacing a regular guard because of a robbery attempt on the same train at the same time last month. The attempt failed; the inept holdup men had blocked the track with a flimsy barrier of barn siding. The engineer had smashed the locomotive right through without stopping. The boss had tried to persuade the Chicago & Galena to ship its next Dubuque payroll by another train, at another time, but management lived by schedules and timetables. So here they were, rolling through the winter night, waiting.
Lon blew on his hands. The car was frigid even though he could see flames in the small stove. The flue pipe went out through the solid wall at the head of the car. Near the stove, the railway mail clerk sat on a stool with his elbows on the counter. All his mail was sorted in pigeonholes and he appeared to be dozing. The clerk struck Lon as suspiciously furtive. Careful observation was a habit the boss demanded.
From his left pocket Lon took a well-thumbed book. Sledge Greenglass, whose given name was Philo, worked his gold-plated toothpick in a crevice in his teeth. Where Lon was fair and broad-shouldered, but otherwise slight, Sledge was taller, heavier, with curly black hair and perhaps an Italian or Greek ancestor. He was ten to fifteen years older than Lon.
"What's that " Sledge said with a nod at the book.
"The latest by Charles Dickens. The latest novel published here, I mean. There's a new serial running in England, Great Expectations. Dickens is my favorite writer after Edgar Poe." Lon showed the book's spine.
"A Tale of Two Cities. Invite him over, maybe he'll write A Tale of Two Countries."