|[ Previous ] [ Next ]|
[New York and London: D. Appleton and Company, n.d. (original publication prior to 1850)]
I've been meaning to add this one to the list for ages, and finally got around to it. It only marginally fits within my territory -- there are a couple of Tarleton mentions, when news of the war in the south is being discussed by the characters -- but what the heck... While it doesn't stand up to the test of time as well as Cooper's classic Last of the Mohicans, this Revolution-era novel remains surprisingly entertaining.
Featuring a cast of quirky characters and considerably faster paced than was typical for its time period, it is the tale of the Wharton family, as they try to survive in the "neutral ground" -- the no-man's land west of New York City, between British and rebel lines. In keeping with the situation around them, the family is politically divided, with a son in the British regulars, one daughter in love with a British officer, and another daughter with strong rebel leanings.
The story opens soon after the execution of John André in nearby Tappaan. The legalities of André's case soon becomes a matter of great personal concern to the Whartons. Knowing that his father is ill, Henry Wharton, an officer with the British army in New York, sneaks through the lines in disguise to visit his family. Recognized and betrayed by Peyton Dunwoodie, a childhood friend who is now a rebel officer, Henry is taken prisoner and seems doomed to share André's fate.
Sharing space with Henry's problems are a number of other plot threads, ranging from domestic to political. Dunwoodie is also Henry's sister's fiancée, which makes the situation complicated, and after one of the endless skirmishes which swirl around their lives, the Wharton home becomes a makeshift field hospital for the wounded of both the victorious rebels and their opponents. Oddly, the "spy" of the book's title -- not Henry, despite initial appearances -- is a minor character, identified only near the end of the novel, and never more than passingly in the limelight.
The supporting cast are, almost to a man (and woman), so bizarrely eccentric that they often threaten to steal the book. I have always been particularly entertained by Dr. Sitgreaves, the army surgeon attached to Dunwoodie's rebel troop. Sitgreaves, with his preoccupied, yet oddly naive ghoulishness, would not have seemed particularly out of place in the original M*A*S*H novels. (At one point he recounts how he broke his own little finger, so that he could more easily study the healing process in detail.)
All in all, worth a read if you don't mind some Victorian wordiness. Cooper isn't my favorite of the "classic" New World adventure writers -- I prefer James Oliver Curwood -- but he does turn in a good tale.
|[ Index ]||[ Previous ] [ Next ]|
|Return to the Main Page||Last updated by the Webmaster on January 2, 2011|