If you see the title Girl in Disguise, the new book by Greer MacAllister, you could be forgiven for assuming that it’s just another book with “girl” in the title, trying to cash in on the popularity of books like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. But if you pass the book by because of that mistaken impression, you’d be depriving yourself of a very different kind of experience: the pleasure of reading a book based on a real life historical figure who had some pretty outrageous adventures.
Kate Warne, the protagonist of Girl in Disguise, was a real person who lived in the middle of the 19th century. A widow with no money, no connections, and little education, Kate didn’t have a lot of prospects in 1856 Chicago, but what she lacked in money and polish she made up for in guts and intelligence. She had the nerve to approach Allan Pinkerton, founder of the famous detective agency, and persuade him that he needed to hire her as an operative, and she succeeded. She had a skill for disguise and manipulation, and could make herself believable as all kinds of women, from Southern belles to prostitutes, from society ladies to servants, and because of her talents and her quick wits, she was able to infiltrate all aspects of Chicago society and track down criminals and would-be criminals with aplomb.
Naturally, as a woman in a man’s profession before and during the Civil War, Kate had to deal with her co-workers’ attitudes in addition to the dangers of her actual job, but the same nerve and intelligence that got her the job in the first place allowed her to deal with their sexism and their assumptions about what she could and couldn’t do.
This is the best kind of historical fiction: well-researched and imagined (unfortunately there aren’t many primary sources about Kate Warne, since many of the Pinkerton records were destroyed in the Chicago Fire, but the author used what was available and worked from there), and great fun to read. If you enjoyed Girl Waits with Gun, you’re going to love this one.