The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

Nine stars

The time during America’s Revolutionary War was anything but peaceful, as many history books have explained over the years. When Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch came together to pen this book, they sought not only to explore some of the more confrontational aspects of the period, but also to uncover a little-known (read: documented) conspiracy against George Washington that seeped almost to the core of the Continental Army. The book opens by exploring some of the early goings-on within the colonies as they sought to band together in order to toss off the yoke of their British oppressors. In the early days of the Continental Congress, one man stood out amongst all the delegates, a former military officer from Virginia, George Washington. Chosen to lead the Continental Army, Washington began preparing for what would surely be a major campaign on many fronts. While some of the colonial areas were easily swayed by Continental sentiment, there were large pockets of Loyalists, those who stayed true to King and Country. One of these pockets was New York, where the Colonial Governor, William Tryon, was prepared to fight in order to hold onto power. Washington, surrounded by an elite group of soldiers called the Life Guards, sought to use all the force at his disposal while being protected, hoping to unseat Tryon and push forward with overtaking New York. As the authors explore, even when Tryon was forced to flee into exile, plots to disrupt and remove Washington from his position of power began. Working to infiltrate the Continental Army commenced, creating turncoats out of those who took up arms against the King, and a plot to remove Washington took shape. All the while, the Continental Congress created a secret committee to explore these whispers, in hopes of finding those who were conspiring and bringing them to justice. It would seem that even those closest to Washington might have been involved in turning against him, even before the formal Declaration of Independence was signed and sent to the British. Just how deep did the conspiracy go and what were the plans if Washington were caught? Meltzer and Mensch dazzle the reader with details and possible plans, as well as how the conspiracy was dismantled and its plotters brought from out of the shadows. A wonderful read for those who enjoy colonial history at the time of the Revolutionary Wars, as well as readers with an interest in political schemes.

I have long been a fan of Brad Meltzer’s work and picked this book up in order to read another of his historical thrillers. It was only when I started reading that I came to understand that this was a piece of non-fiction. It is written in such a way that the reader can fully absorb the impact of the plotting without drowning in too much detail. Meltzer and Mensch lay the groundwork effectively, offering some biographical pieces on the key players, before delving into the core of the story that shows how both sides were keen on pushing forward and removing those in positions of authority. While Washington was apparently in imminent danger on many occasions, he kept his eye on the prize and sought not to peer over his shoulder at every turn. The various plots and conspiracies evolved effectively throughout the narrative, coming to a head as the story builds. Even in the closing chapters, the authors posit what might have been had the conspiracy succeeded and how might present day America be different. While this is surely alternate history, it is interesting to wonder and surmise. With short chapters, the authors offer repeated lures to pull the reader into the middle of the story and offers little-known (to me at least) insights into the attempts to remove Washington, at times plots to kidnap, but also whispers of more violent means. The smooth-flowing narrative keeps the reader enthralled and entertained as they learn some of facts that have been buried in footnotes, letters, and journals. Not to be missed by those who love learning about historical events buried within larger narratives well-documented in tomes.

Kudos, Messrs. Meltzer and Mensch, for holding my attention throughout. I was pleased to learn so much while being entertained, as I am in the fiction I have come to know and love.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: