If you’re looking for a meticulously researched and often fascinating account of life on the Confederate home front for wealthy Union sympathizers, this is your book. However, the story’s sometimes tedious recitation of historical events drains tension and passion from what’s billed as a spy thriller.
Despite her fervent loyalty to the Union and the abolitionist cause, wealthy spinster Elizabeth Van Lew cannot bring herself to abandon her beloved Virginia even after it secedes from the United States. During her missions of mercy to Union soldiers imprisoned in the Confederate capital of Richmond, she realizes she is perfectly situated to glean information that could hasten a Union victory. Risking her reputation, her fortune and her life, she gradually constructs an intricate patchwork of spies, going so far as to place an educated, freeborn black woman as a servant in Confederate president Jefferson Davis’ household. (DUTTON, Oct., 368 pp., $26.95)