The First Conspiracy
Have to say, I loved this book. I’ve always been intrigued by the American Revolution. I’ve lived in Boston all my life, and the history of Boston is inextricably linked with the Revolution.
THE FIRST CONSPIRACY by Brad Meltzer, most of which takes place in the 1770s, centers on a scheme to assassinate the leader of the Colonial army, a man revered and crucial to the morale of soldiers and populace alike, George Washington. That’s a flashy premise, certainly good for a title. But the real intrigue of the book is an outlining of the first spying, the first intelligence, and counterintelligence, the first corps of trained men – our Secret Service, Washington’s “bodyguards” – whose sole job was to protect the president.
The strength of THE FIRST CONSPIRACY is in the details. Meticulously researched, they describe the men involved most intimately on both sides – where they came from, what their personalities were like, why they did the work they did. George Washington, for instance, is painted as a man who put honor and dignity above all. We see this in page after page describing his actions.
Conversely, the plight of the Connecticut farmer whose wife died leaving six children at home, a man who turns traitor for money to help support his children and farm, is heartrending. The goodness of this man gradually reemerges; as a spy in the local prison, he gains intelligence crucial to the Patriot cause.
And fake news? The authors give examples of this as well – in one instance, a letter put into important hands claiming that the intent of one of Washington’s most trusted generals to betray his commander. The letter was proven to be an out-and-out lie. Still, in this instance, and in others in the book, I found myself thinking how little things have changed.
In the face of all this praise, why only a four-star rating, you ask? Several reasons:
First, repetition. Editors have primed me to avoid repeating facts of the same incident when I change from one person’s POV to another’s. Apparently, these authors have not learned this. Either that or they didn’t trust the intelligence of their readers. Or they simply needed to fill space. The repetition does make this relatively short book longer.
Second, every chapter ended with a dramatic cliffhanging statement that sometimes just didn’t follow through made me feel manipulated.
Third, one of the authors himself gave the book a 5-star rating on Goodreads. OK. So maybe other authors do this. Maybe it’s a totally acceptable, even expected thing to do. Maybe it’s a male thing. I simply don’t know.
Whatever, my four-star rating counters it. I give these authors kudos for research and detail and readability. And for enjoyment. But then, to risk repeating myself, I am an American history buff. If you are as well, this is a worthwhile read.