REVIEW: Pinkerton’s Secret by Eric Lerner
Dear Mr. Lerner,
Of course I’d heard of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. And I’d even read romance books that featured Pinkerton detective heroes and heroines before. But I didn’t know much about the real man behind the formation of one of the most famous American law enforcement businesses or of the cases he and his agents worked on.
First of all, since this is not a romance, though there is a bittersweet ‘might have been,’ I won’t review it as one. It’s a first person POV of the life of a fascinating man. This is the beginning of the age of titans in America – men who knew what they wanted and who had the guts, brains, ruthlessness and foresight to go out and get it. What Pinkerton did was create the first modern detective agency and in so doing he set the standard for how it still is today. I didn’t realize just how many innovations he pioneered nor precedents he set. Even the term “private eye” is thought to be derived from the symbol he devised for the agency. “Pinkerton’s Secret” has an ‘in your face’ style – very intense and abrupt. Is this mimicking Pinkerton’s personality? From what I’ve read about him, I would think so.
He seems the kind of man one can admire for what he accomplished though it would have been hell to work with him or, even worse, live with him. He suffered fools not at all, was outspoken, opinionated, crass, demanding of others but more so of himself. He was a man of his times – ie visiting whores and not worrying about what his wife thinks – and yet ahead of his times in regard to employment of minorities including women (though starting them at half pay) and African Americans. He had a relentless drive to accomplish his goals and never let up on himself to achieve them. You don’t depict him as a kind man but he acts as I would expect a 19th man to act. But the way you wrote the story, he seems to be almost trying to persuade himself – as well as his son Willie for whom you have him say he wrote the biography — that what he did was right. You certainly have him use a lot of !!! And he has that masculine ability to convince himself that what he wants to do is the right thing for everyone.
You seem to have taken the available historical information about him and used it well. The exploits of the agents and the agency are fascinating. Several of the incidents and subplots you include in the book made for interesting and entertaining reading. But how much of what you add to the behind the scenes urgency of the agents’ personal interactions is true? It’s probable that we’ll never know for sure exactly what was going on between Pinkerton and his first female detective Kate Warne. Pinkerton might also have had problems with his two sons and their actions as detectives and members of the agency. The tale you tell could very well be the hidden story of Pinkerton’s life though it contradicts some of the facts in a few of the online sources I checked.
Unlike Pinkerton, I’m not one who believes that the ends always justify the means and I wonder how he would operate under or what he would think of the Miranda Warning and other fourth amendment protections now in place. The cover letter sent with the arc of the book states “The unbelievable facts of Pinkerton’s exciting life are brought together in this romantic adventure that will leave astonished readers thinking: “Can this really be true? Did this really happen?” Well, I’m not sure I believed everything but it was a fun read. B
Available in hardcover