Word by Word

Creating myself one word at a time.


There has been a lot of discourse about the roles women have been forced to play throughout the course of history. Mother. Daughter. Sister. Saint. Boxes were created and women were placed neatly into them. Those who didn’t fit neatly into those boxes were given other names. Names meant to carry very negative labels. Trouble maker. Whore. Slut.

In Greer Macallister’s Girl in Disguise, recently widowed Kate Warne sets out to live a life playing on all of those roles and be the first female Pinkerton Detective.Based on the true story of Kate Warne, this historical fiction novel picks-up in late 1856 and carries the reader through the beginning years of the Civil War. Kate’s early life was not an easy one and plays an important role in Kate’s drive to make something of herself beyond the expected roles of daughter, wife and mother.

If you take a moment to read the author’s notes, you’ll learn Macallister’s job of recreating Warne’s life was not an easy one. Just as you would expect for a women who spent her life putting on masks and playing roles, not much exists in the way of records. Many of the case files from Pinkerton’s early years were lost, though there were some notes in later case files and from other detectives.

Macallister has done a wonderful job building pre-Civil War United States with all of its tension and strife. Her Kate Warne comes to life with all of her pain, loneliness and sheer determination. Because, when you’re first it can be a very lonely place.

“For just a moment, I faltered. Perhaps he really would turn me away. A rivulet of perspiration made the plunge from my shoulder blades down the small of my back, pooling under the lacing of my corset.

‘Someone has to be first,’ I said with all the force I could muster.”

Girl in Disguise covers a lot of time, which at times can feel slow and even confusing when you aren’t sure if years or months have transpired. However, Macallister is building Kate Warne’s progress as a detective, so that later events will make more sense. The cases she features are interesting, from embezzled money on the railroads to finding recently stolen money. But, when the Civil War begins and Pinkerton takes the side of the Union, the real risks begin and the real toll begins for Warne.

While the early years show a Warne who is resolved to stand alone in her life, the later chapters bring a level of heartache I wasn’t prepared for and I cried a few tears for her.

The real question the Kate Warne of Macallister’s novel has to ask is where does the disguise end and where do I begin? It’s an enjoyable tale showing the real challenges a woman who is first to do something in a man’s world faces.

I was given an early copy of this novel for an honest review. Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley.

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