The Queen of Washington

Written by Francis Hamit
Review by Richard Abbott

The Queen of Washington follows the exploits of Rose Greenhow, a Confederate spy in the American Civil War. It is part of a loosely connected series, but each can be read separately. The novel is complex, and deserves to be mulled over rather than raced through; my own opinion has gone up as I have thought back after finishing it.

I knew very little about the setting, and needed to quiz American friends to get background understanding which the author assumes without explanation. The book successfully stirred a desire to know more, and for less well-informed readers some historical notes would be very helpful. The author explains in his foreword that some parts are more alternate history than historical fiction, however, he never explains this further, and so far as I can tell, known events are not altered. Parts of the book read more like a mission debrief than fiction, based perhaps on the author’s working life. I found it difficult, therefore, to engage with Rose on an emotional level. This may be a reflection of the secretive persona she cultivated, but made her rather inaccessible. For example, we read that a systematic search of her house “made her feel violated” but the narrative did not lead me to share in any sense of outrage.

Technically the book would benefit from minor improvements. There was some already heavy ‘cover curl’ before I had even started reading, which often happens with lesser quality paper,  and there were some typos and grammatical slips, plus a few widow and orphan lines had slipped through editing. These could be fixed quite easily to give a better impression.

In summary, this is a book that will satisfy curious readers who want more insight into this facet of American history, and do not mind emotional distance from the characters. Worth reading slowly and turning over in your mind.