Girl in Disguise
Kate Warne was born in New York State in 1833. By the time she was 23, she was a widow ready to challenge convention by becoming the first female operative at the Pinkerton Detective Agency.
MacAllister opens her novel, based on Kate Warne’s real-life investigations, at this crucial point in Kate’s history. Pinkerton and many of his staff have reservations about hiring the first woman detective, but Kate is persuasive, brave and intrepid, and Pinkerton quickly realizes that she can go places and hear things that no male detective can. Told from Kate’s point of view, Girl in Disguise charts Kate’s many adventures in the 1850s and 1860s.
In addition to charting the perils of Kate Warne’s chosen occupation, the novel provides a fascinating window on a turbulent period in American history as the slavery debate and ultimately Civil War both beckon. An early encounter with a lawyer named Lincoln sets the scene very nicely for Kate’s investigation into the attempt to assassinate then-President Lincoln as he travels by rail through Baltimore. Readers who enjoy historical events told from the point of view of an engaging character will be well-served by Girl in Disguise.
There is an episodic quality to the narrative—essentially following Kate’s career through the decades—that means that in some ways the novel lacks drama. There is no overarching question to keep readers turning the pages, and Kate is something of a loner who avoids the kind of personal or relationship crises, but her story is undoubtedly fascinating. Kate’s voice is fresh and compelling, and therefore, overall, this is a very well-written and enjoyable novel.