Don’t let the title fool you, “Girl in Disguise” is no where near the same genre of things like “Gone Girl” or “Girl on the Train” or “All the Missing Girls” –this is not a thriller. I don’t know when thrillers decided to go that route with titles, but this book is actually a historical fiction about the first female Pinkerton Detective, Kate Warne. Not much is actually known about Kate other than she was, indeed, the first female detective and she was hired by Pinkerton himself. There is speculation that she was a widow—something tragic and world altering must have occurred for a woman of her time to seek this kind of employment—and there were rumors she was having a long-term affair with Pinkerton, but none of this has been proven. There are also no verified pictures of her, which, as a spy, I’m sure the real-life Kate was happy for. This lack of substantiated information into Kate’s life allowed Macallister to have a great deal of freedom when writing Kate’s story, and she uses it to take the reader on a fun, historically accurate ride!
I found this book perfect for today’s climate when it comes to gender equality as Kate constantly struggles with proving to her male operatives that she’s not just qualified for the job, she’s just as good—and a lot of the times better—at it then them. It makes her work harder and pushes her to take more dangerous cases. She’s definitely a character that a lot of women can empathize with as she works in a male dominated field, and society. But Kate is also very much a woman of her time and you see it a great deal in certain viewpoints she has - that I won’t mention to avoid spoilers. While I disagreed with her opinions, this is a historical fiction and if she felt another way it would not have been accurate for the time, so just keep that in mind when you go into this—Kate is alive and working around Civil War era America.
While I enjoyed watching Kate work and the clever ways she solves her cases, I did not enjoy her interactions with her love interest. I saw the romance coming from pretty much the first chapter and I didn’t like that, especially as it doesn’t pay off until after half-way through the book. I also had a hard time believing these two characters were in love as it felt so opposed to all their previous interactions, which made the romance feel rushed and a bit forced. But, this book is not about Kate’s romantic escapades. Ultimately, this is a book about a woman in love with her work first and foremost. So, while the romance wasn’t my favorite and was perhaps the weakest part of the book for me, it also wasn’t the point of the story, so I’m not letting it damper this otherwise quick and cozy read.
Macallister did a great job taking a little-known woman from history and giving her more presence. This was a fascinating time in American history and I do think Civil War buffs are really going to like it, perhaps a great deal more than me, as Macallister doesn’t explain much about all the historical figures Kate works with. They make for fun cameo’s if you know who they are, but it also makes sense that the author doesn’t go into detail about some of these people, either, as it would slow down the pacing and disrupt the voice in which the book is written. After reading the book, I’m definitely inspired to seek out other novels based in this time period, so kudos to the author for inspiring that in me!
All in all, this is a nice, summer read that feels appropriate for today’s discussions on gender equality as it provides historical strength for anyone struggling because they are going against the gender norm. I liked following Kate out on assignments and her interactions with Pinkerton, and while I found the romance aspect lacking, it didn’t make the book less enjoyable—it kind of read like a serial detective show and I dug that. There’s no mature language or content so this book is appropriate for a wide age range, granted they know enough about history to understand what’s going on. I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes fun, quick, historical fiction reads with inspiring characters--which is why I’m giving it 4 stars—it’s just too bad the title makes it sound so much like a thriller. If that’s the book you want, keep looking!
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