is back to the fall of Dixie in Prologue talk
and novelist John Jakes, whose popular trilogy North and South topped
bestseller lists around the country a decade ago, has returned to
a Civil War setting in his latest book, On Secret Service.
Jakes will be the speaker at a noon meeting of the Prologue Society
Oct. 30 in Northern Trust Bank, 700 Brickell Ave. The society, co-sponsored
by Northern Trust and Miami Today, is dedicated to the appreciation
of works of history. Details: (305) 789-1344.
history of spying in the American Civil War is a subject that intrigued
me the moment I discovered it years ago," he writes in an afterword
to the novel. "I promised myself that someday, when I had an
opportunity and a publisher who shared my excitement, I'd write a
novel about it."
book's twin plots follow the wartime adventures of two pairs of lovers.
A northern spy is attracted to a southern belle whose family is embroiled
in particularly unsavory political activity. An idealistic young actress
who is captured while masquerading as a Union soldier falls in love
with a disillusioned Confederate major.
portrayal of historical personalities is one of the difficulties of
this genre. Too often novelists faced with introducing well-known
figures such as Abraham Lincoln or Gen. George McClellan are bowed
down by the weight of myth and history. The result is stiff, unconvincing
Mr. Jakes doesn't suffer from this fault. His characters, invented
or resurrected, are equally convincing.
hit his silk hat on the door, grabbed it before it tumbled off,"
he writes. "He laughed, and his eyes fixed on Lon. `Say, I've
seen you before. First time was in Harrisburg, wasn't it?'"
the best of his historical portraits is the rather enigmatic Allan
Pinkerton. A Scot by birth, he set up the first US detective agency
in 1850. Under McClellan, the agency organized Secret Service activities
for the Union during the Civil War.
Price, a young agent who is among the novel's main characters, begins
by idolizing Pinkerton. By the book's end, he's become thoroughly
disenchantment is only partly a by-product of living through a particularly
bloody, internecine struggle that dragged on far longer than anyone
expected, as wars are wont to do. It's also represented as a result
of the agency's poor showing during the war years an ineptitude
generally attributed to Pinkerton's crippling dependence on Gen. McClellan.
War buffs will find On Secret Service a rich field for controversy.
Mr. Jakes serves up some interesting takes on lingering questions.
example, was John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's assassin, the pawn of a
conspiracy plot hatched in Richmond? And was a faction of his own
party, frustrated by what they saw as a as a compromised Reconstruction
Secret Service, by John Jakes, 448 pages hard cover, is $25.95 from
Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam.