Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Tour: Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy

When TLC Book Tours approached me late this summer with some fall book suggestions, I was immediately drawn to Karen Abbott's new hefty piece of nonfiction called Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. Though the catchy title is at first an obvious play on the already-well-known Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I was happy to discover that it's also a completely relevant and accurate description of the four women she introduces in her 500+ pages.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy shares the stories of four women who refused to sit on the sidelines of the Civil War. On the Southern side, we have Belle Boyd who embroils herself in the rebel cause as a spy after shooting a Union soldier in her own home, and we meet Rose O'Neal Greenhow, the temptress of the set, who draws elicit information from her affairs with powerful Union men. Fighting for the North, we have Emma Edmonds who has disguised herself as a man named Frank Thompson and enlisted in the army, and then there's Elizabeth Van Lew—every bit Emma's opposite—who uses her wealthy Richmond upbringing to gain access to Confederate secrets that will help the abolitionist cause.

It's thrilling to read such detailed accounts of an event and era that is usually so simplified and abbreviated in our minds, a consequence of the 150 years that have passed, causing summation to replace specifics. Abbott tells the story of these women in such a vivid way that feels more like a fictional narrative than historical fact. The author states in the beginning that none of the dialogue is fabricated; any quotes can be found in the historical record—journals, letters, documents, and such. Abbott's use of them really adds a lot to the story, creating excitement and tension rather than presenting dry fact.

The book is divided into five parts, each covering a year of the war from 1861-1865. We follow the journey of each of these women, from their initial agitation through the development of the pivotal role they eventually play. It's interesting to see each of their perspectives and personal motivations. I found myself sympathizing with our Union heroines, and I was left wondering if that was a sentiment subtly weaved into Abbott's words or if it's just a consequence of their position on the meritorious side of history. At no point does the narrative feel particularly partisan; the focus is on the women themselves and the risks they took, not whether they were "right" or "wrong" in taking them. I was most surprised—though I shouldn't have been—at the horrors of war that existed on BOTH sides. War never seems an inculpable conflict.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is a deceptively fast read that by no means feels bogged down with detail. It's an entertaining look at overlooked figures in history that feels more much like storytelling than 500 pages of nonfiction.

This post is a stop on the TLC Book Tour of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy! You can visit the tour page to learn more about the book, its author, and find a list of the other tour stops. If you're intrigued, be sure to check out all the other blogger opinions, continuing through October 2nd!


CLM said...

This sounds like something I would enjoy!

HeatherTLC said...

You are so right that history becomes abbreviated the farther we're removed from it. Books like this help me see details that I've overlooked before.

Thanks for being a part of the tour!