The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washington, by Charles Rosenberg

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Charles Rosenberg, and Hanover Square Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In this novel of alternate history, Charles Rosenberg asks the reader to ponder what might have happened if the British Crown had been able to get their hands on General George Washington and bring him to justice in an English Court. In the dead of night, off the New Jersey coast, Colonel Jeremiah Black undertakes his ultra-secret mission. He has only one chance to succeed and many have put their trust in him. Making his way ashore, Black begins a journey that will see him play the role of a disaffected Colonial soldier, inching closer to his ultimate prize. Striking at just the right moment, Black is able to capture General George Washington and take him aboard HMS Peregrine for the trip across the Atlantic. While the journey is slow and laborious, Washington is not yet panicked, sure that he will be treated as a prisoner of war. However, Black has his orders and while he would have rather put a bullet in the military man, he hopes for long-term praise when they reach the English Coast. Meanwhile, news of Washington’s capture reaches the king, as well as the British Cabinet. George III is beside himself with delight—perhaps fuelled by his insanity?—and is prepared to levy charges of high treason, which will lead to a gruesome form of execution, one the monarch is sure will make an example of Washington. Panicked, the Continental Congress of the American States sends its ambassador plenipotentiary, Ethan Abbott, to negotiate terms and bring Washington home safely. However, Britain does not recognise the Congress or any of its officials, leaving Abbott neutered and unsure what to do. After some smooth talking, Abbott is able to communicate with the prisoner, who is prepared to face his indictment, but demands an American represent him in court, even though some high profile Brits are prepared to step up for the cause. Enter Abraham Hobhouse, whose work in a small firm has been anything but remarkable up to this point. When he is approached to represent General Washington, the chance to change history flashes before Hobhouse’s eyes, though the notoriety might also turn sour should he fail. Armed with the most significant case of his career, Hobhouse must cobble together a case to defend a man who does not deny his charges, though remains firmly rooted that the Colonial cause was just and that he led a necessary rebellion. All eyes turn to the London court prepared to hear the case, where history hangs in the balance. Rosenberg proves adept at entertaining as well as educating his reader in this wonderfully developed story that asks ‘what if’ in relation to one of America’s founding historical moments. Recommended for those who love history and its alternate possibilities, as well as those who enjoy a unique legal thriller.

Having never read Rosenberg before, this was a delightful introduction to an author with a vivid imagination for alternative history. When I first saw the title, I was immediately drawn to the book, as it sought to posit a significant change in paths to one of the central pieces in early American history. Might Washington’s capture and guilt have deflated the American States and left the English to run roughshod in the colonies, locking them into a horrible situation? Additionally, how would both sides negotiate through international law, sovereign state interaction, and during a state of war? One can only imagine in this well-paced piece of historical fiction. The characters used throughout help the story to progress nicely at different points. Rosenberg uses not only time-centred dialogue and settings, but also brings the characters to life as they seek to find a balance. The reader can feel right in the middle of the action, particularly throughout the lead up and into Washington’s trial. Rosenberg uses a mix of short and mid-length chapters to push the story along, keeping the reader wondering what is to come and how it will resolve itself. This constant pace keeps the narrative crisp and the plot from getting too bogged down in minutiae. Perhaps this is why the story seems to read to swiftly and with ease. As things built, I could find myself curious to see just how far Rosenberg would take things, having literary freedoms under the umbrella of alternate history. The final product is definitely worth the time spent and keeps the reader engaged until the very end.

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg, for this interesting piece of American history. I will be certain to check out more of your work and keep an eye out to see what you might have coming down the pipeline.

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