The Pinkerton Detective Agency was founded by Allan Pinkerton in 1850, and still exists in some form today. You will see or hear about Pinkerton agents in many movies or novels of the Old West, or stories about the Civil War. The Pinkerton Agency is credited with foiling an assassination attempt on President-Elect Abraham Lincoln’s life, who then hired agents to act as his security when he was elected president. This, of course, was before the days of the Secret Service.
But when you hear or read about these agents, they are mostly men. That’s because the first woman didn’t join the agency until 1856 when Allan Pinkerton hired Kate Warne. Girl in Disguise, by Greer Macallister , is a fictional account of this real-life detective.
Kate Warne is already a widow at age 23, and desperate for a job. She answers an advertisement for a detective at the Pinkerton Detective Agency despite her lack of experience. Thinking she was applying for a clerical position, Mr. Pinkerton is surprised to learn that she is answering the detective ad. At first reluctant, Pinkerton eventually agrees to hire Kate as his first female detective.
Kate’s first job is to procure information about a gambling ring by posing as a prostitute. She successfully completes the job, much to the surprise of her fellow male agents and Mr. Pinkerton himself. Eventually she gains the trusts of at least some of her fellow agents, and is given more difficult assignments. She becomes a master of disguise and manipulation. Eventually she becomes a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War.
Based on fact, it’s true the story has an appealing protagonist. Still, I was more and more disappointed as the book went on. While Warne’s story is certainly interesting, it just seemed like nothing really ever happened. The story slogged along when it doesn’t seem like it should have. Perhaps the author stuck too strongly to fact and needed to provide a bit more excitement, given that it is historical FICTION.
I liked that I learned about a real-life person with whom I was unfamiliar, especially one who clearly broke ground for women. But I am unable to wholeheartedly recommend this book as the pace just never picked up and held my attention.