This novel explores a family torn apart – Abigail Lovell’s schoolmaster father is an outspoken loyalist and prominent figurehead in the community; she and her two brothers engage in acts of espionage to undermine the British forces in Boston. It’s a tale of loyalty to the family vs. loyalty to a cause, and – although we know the outcome of the battles that determined the course of our nation – the results for the fictional Lovell family are what keep the pages turning!
In addition to the battles scenes at Concord, Lexington, and Breed’s Hill being historically accurate, Smolens has written a historically plausible story about the Lovell family. Indeed, John Lovell, the patriarch of the family, was the headmaster of Boston’s Latin School, and a staunch loyalist, as is the character Smolens created.
I appreciated the attention to detail of the geography and topography of the time – the “tri-mount” of Boston plays a role in the novel, as does “Boston Neck,” the spit of land which connected the city to the outlying towns. It’s interesting to think about how our land has changed, with the filling in of the Back Bay with land from those hills on Boston Common.
Consider this passage, which describes how tanner William Dawes was able to fool the British guards at the gate to Boston Neck; they never suspected that he was smuggling items out of the city. The “Benjamin” in this passage is Abigail Lovell’s bother, also a patriot:
But Dawes’s greatest feat – his legend, which was now whispered about by the Bostonians – were the cannon. It took months, several trips a week, to take two stolen British cannon, piece by piece out of Boston. Beginning in January, he and Benjamin dismantled the cannon Dawes kept hidden in his tanner’s shed. The wheels were laid in the bottom of a wagon, loaded with hides. One barrel was concealed beneath bales of hay, the other a boatload of seaweed. Other, smaller parts were buried in bushels of oysters or boxes of cod. Once, a firing pin, tied to a leather strap which was then wrapped about Benjamin’s waist, was hung down into his breeches, the steel bumping against his inner thigh as he walked out the Neck alongside Dawes’s horse, which had more parts sewn into the underside of his saddlebags. Dawes was adept at fashioning leather pouches that would fit beneath their clothing. The trick, he would tell Benjamin, was to walk as though you weren’t carrying the weight, as though heavy steel, cold in the winter air, weren’t pressed against your skin.
During the Q&A after his reading, the author indicated that this passage is based in fact. Not only were gold pieces smuggled out of Boston (often sewn inside a fabric cover, made to look like buttons), but cannons were smuggled out piece by piece, reassembled in Concord.
John Smolens is author of four previous novels: Cold; The invisible World; Fire point; and The Anarchist, an “editor’s Choice” pick by The Denver Post. John received his MFA from the University of Iowa and is currently head of the MFA program at Northern Michigan University.