The Notorious Mrs. Winston
Trapped in a loveless marriage by a husband who treats her as an art object rather than a wife, Claire Winston is ripe for an affair. When she meets Henry’s dashing soldier nephew, John Taylor, they are instantly attracted. They run away together to New Orleans, intending to take ship for South America, but Henry follows and tricks Claire with a story about John leaving her to return to his wife and child. Claire reluctantly returns home with Henry, just as war is declared between North and South.
Two years later, Claire discovers that Henry lied to her and that John has been wounded during the fighting. Disguising herself as a boy soldier for ease of travel, she finds him with John Hunt Morgan’s raiders. Now she faces a dilemma: fight the North as a Rebel soldier in order to stay with John, or remain loyal to the Union.
The first section of the book, describing Henry and Claire’s troubled relationship, is excellent. The tension between hungry-for-love Claire and the asexual Henry is well-drawn. The later parts, in which Claire masquerades as a soldier, were less successful. I know that some women did serve in the Civil War disguised as men, but I didn’t quite believe Claire’s martial exploits. Also, the action stops dead in the passage in which “Zeke” (Claire) encounters John Hunt Morgan in the field. It reads like a dropped-in mini history lesson instead of being integrated into the story. Despite those two misgivings, the rest of the book was enjoyable enough to rank it a better-than-average romantic historical novel.