A few weeks have passed since the Boston Tea Party, and Abigail Adams and the rest of the residents of Boston are nervously waiting to see how the King will react. Abigail determines it is still safe for her to visit her nephew Horace, a student at Harvard University, but finds the young man ill. Abigail is concerned when it becomes apparent Horace is a victim of poisoning, and then a greater tragedy occurs; Horace's friend, George Fairfield, is murdered.
George's servant Diomede is the convenient suspect, but Abigail believes in Diomede's innocence, and won`t give up until she finds the truth about the murder. She thinks George's murder may either related to his loyalist beliefs or to a mysterious woman who had asked her nephew to translate an Arabic letter referring to a hidden treasure. With the help of Horace and other friends, Abigail is determined to prevent an innocent man from being put to death for a crime he didn't commit.
I don't know a lot about the real Abigail Adams, but the fictional version is delightful. She is intelligent and knows how to convince others to take her opinions seriously, in spite of the limitations she faces as a woman in the 18th century. She is persistent, kind, fair, and has insights into the behavior of others that are right on target. All of these qualities make her a great amateur sleuth and a wonderful heroine.
The book is extremely well-written and extensively researched. At its best, the book's narrative makes the Revolutionary War era come alive. Abigail, a devoted wife and mother trying to balance a desire to contribute to society with her family obligations is relevant to today's reader. Her fear of war is conveyed realistically and can be applied to events going on in today's world. While Abigail is the main character, the appearances in the book by her husband John, John's cousin Samuel Adams, as well as Paul Revere and young "Johnny" Quincy Adams add to the book's appeal.
The plot of the book is interesting. I also like the peek into life at Harvard University in 1774 that are described when Abigail visits Horace. Horace is a likeable side-kick for Abigail's investigation, and I enjoy his intelligence, enthusiasm, and his dry wit. However, his penchant for speaking in Latin, which I'm sure is realistic for the times, grows tiresome for the modern reader. In fact, there is a time that even Abigail grows weary of this habit when she is trying to get important information from Horace and he responds with a Latin phrase:
"'Twas entirely by accident...Res hominum fragiles alit et regit---"
"Yes, yes, I know the fragile affairs of men are guided by chance," said Abigail impatiently. "Where did you see him?"
The Latin phrases, especially when they're not translated or the meaning isn't apparent from the context of the rest of the passage, interfere with the flow of the story. Also, some of the historical details, while important, slow the pace of the book making some portions drag. However, just when the story begins to get a bit dull, a dramatic event occurs which grabs the reader's attention and gets the book back on track. In addition to the murder investigation and search for the treasure, the book debates complex issues such as the rights of individuals vs. a greater cause. A thought-provoking quote from the book relates to Samuel Adams's interest in the possibility of a hidden treasure and what that could mean to the Sons of Liberty in their fight for freedom. It reminds Abigail of words spoken earlier in the book by another character, "...greed in a good cause was still greed."
One thing that is missing is an introduction or an afterward by the author. It is obvious Barbara Hamilton is extremely knowledgeable about Abigail Adams and the Revolutionary War. If she had shared a few facts to provide background and insights into the fictional events of the story, it would have provided an excellent supplement to the story.
Anyone who enjoys reading about Colonial times in America or likes the style of Stephanie Barron writing about a real-life historical figure as a fictional amateur detective will appreciate "Sup With the Devil." The book may even encourage some to follow up with some additional reading on Abigail Adams and her actual contributions to American history.
This review was originally written for The Season E-Zine. The book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review.