The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washington
“a very enjoyable mystery/political thriller in an alternate history timeline.”
Alternate history is becoming a popular subgenre of historical fiction. These tales are very challenging to write, requiring a believable Point of Departure, where history is changed by the author, and a logical new timeline of events and actions created by both the author’s imagination and a solid knowledge of history.
The Civil War and World War II have been popular settings for this genre, but the Revolutionary era has received much less attention. In this novel Charles Rosenberg dives into this era full steam, drawing inspiration from an actual historical event; the 1776 hanging of Thomas Hickey, one of George Washington’s personal guards, for conspiracy with the British to assassinate or capture the general.
In the author’s timeline, advanced to 1780, Washington is arrested by a British agent, what we would call today a covert operative, and brought to England to stand trial on the charge of high treason.
After a short and whirlwind tale of the planning and conduct of the kidnapping or arrest, depending on your point of view, the story quickly shifts to a tale of legal and political intrigue as the true motivations of the British Prime Minster, Lord North emerge. The middle portion of the book lags a bit as the author introduces and integrates several new characters and subplots, but quickly gains steam as the trial begins and heads toward the climax of the book.
As with any good novel, the characters make this an interesting tale, particularly the larger than life figure of George Washington. The author does a superior job of capturing his character, poise, and charisma that affect both his supporters and captors in England.
Lawyer Abraham Hobhouse, a transplanted colonist working at his father-in-law’s firm in London, reluctantly takes the job as Washington’s defense attorney. He also comes across as a sympathetic character who is torn between loyalty to his native land and mother country, and he takes Washington’s case even though he is almost sure he will lose.
The American representative sent to negotiate on Washington’s behalf, Ethan Abbott, is also a fascinating character. A seemingly junior official in the Continental Congress, he is given the awesome responsibility of determining the British government’s real agenda and responding accordingly.
In an era where communications could take weeks to traverse the Atlantic, the job of ambassadors and negotiators was very complicated. They had to use their own judgement on what was achievable and acceptable with minimal guidance or consulting with their leadership. Washington again takes center stage in his interactions with Abbott as the two of them try to spare his life yet stay true to the cause of liberty that Washington holds so dear.
No spoilers here, but the book races toward an unexpected ending, albeit a somewhat less than completely satisfactory one, as the reader is left with almost a cliff-hanger conclusion. Other readers may have a different impression and find the ending to be just enough.
If you have the patience to let the plot develop and start trying to decipher the seemingly random actions of some of the characters, this is a very enjoyable mystery/political thriller in an alternate history timeline.