Lincoln’s Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton, America’s First Private Eye By Samantha Seiple

If you’re a spy or a private detective, being good at your job probably takes more than a desire to right wrongs or get information for a client, right? If you’re clumsy or obvious, your blunders make you vulnerable. Going in with guns blazing might not actually achieve what you think it might. What if the bad guy has gone out for a nice ride to the next town and you accidentally shoot up his family instead of him?

Allan Pinkerton realized that planning and patience could often achieve what force might not, although he certainly wasn’t above using force to achieve his goals. After foiling an assassination attempt on Abraham Lincoln, Pinkerton moved on to stopping outlaws from robbing trains and banks. His agency became well-known for its ability to round up bad guys.

Earlier this year, I reviewed a middle grade book partly based on the life of one of the Pinkerton agency’s women operatives. (See here.) While Kate Warne is not a major character in Lincoln’s Spymaster, she’s one piece of the revolutionary way Allan Pinkerton thought about being a private detective. He planted operatives, both male and female, in places where they could find out information from the assassins and thieves themselves, and then used that information to draw the bad guys (and women) into traps.

It’s apparent from the later chapters that Allan Pinkerton was nobody’s sweetheart. He got involved in breaking up unions and strongly resisted giving his children control of his business even as his health declined. Lincoln’s Spymaster probably leaves out a lot of interesting and possibly horrifying historical tidbits about the changing face of the U.S. in the late 1800s, but it does create a compelling snapshot of a moment in time and the particular kind of person who lived then. It’s a fast and fascinating read, and something a little different, which is nice for a change.

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