It's a fascinating story, and Meltzer and Mensch do an excellent job explaining it. Meltzer...brings a propulsive energy to the narrative—it can be difficult to create tension and suspense in a nonfiction book where the reader already knows how the story ends, but the authors do a great job keeping the reader turning the pages. The book is also extremely well-researched. Meltzer and Mensch cite an impressive number of primary sources, including letters from Washington and others, as well as a heroic number of history books. Nothing about the book is phoned in; the amount of research behind it is genuinely remarkable. If there's one thing that doesn't quite succeed, it's Meltzer and Mensch's prose, which at times tends toward the breathless ... But that's a minor complaint ... The First Conspiracy is an excellent book, enthralling and beyond fascinating, and it's sure to delight both fans of thrillers and American history.
Messrs. Meltzer and Mensch offer a fresh perspective by focusing on the strange and astonishing events arising from British schemes to undermine Washington’s command from within and on the initiatives to frustrate such efforts through the formation of a Patriot 'Secret Committee' employing methods that prefigure today’s 'counterintelligence' ... Narrated in short, fast-paced chapters, The First Conspiracy deploys a conversational style that may rankle some readers ... There is also much repetition, and some hyperbole. For example, the authors never tire of emphasizing that the British soldiers and sailors converging upon New York were members of 'the biggest, most powerful, most feared military in the world' ... Their conclusion that Washington was a target rests on rumors of a 'horrid' or 'hellish' plot that began circulating several days before Pvt. Hickey’s trial. But none of the official records...reveal such bloodthirsty objectives ... A more plausible explanation is that an exaggerated account of the conspiracy was spread to bolster the Patriot cause.
It’s a breezily entertaining account of a treasonous plot among various pro-crown figures, including some of Washington’s bodyguards, to assassinate the general and turn the tide of the Revolutionary War ... For Meltzer, a best-selling author of thrillers and a popular History Channel host, this foray into non-fiction has a decidedly melodramatic flavor, rushing along in the present tense from one breathless, cliffhanging chapter to the next, replete with bold-faced teasers...and flash-card prose ... But the research shown is solid, citing newspaper accounts, journal entries and letters from such revolutionary leaders as John Hancock, John Adams and Washington himself. To their credit, the authors turn the oft-chronicled details of Washington’s rise to prominence and the first American presidency into a colorful origin story ... The details of...treachery are less interesting, though, than the larger point that in the revolutionary era, peopled by colonists with divided loyalties to Britain and an emerging America, 'the two sides are porous and always changing.'
Meltzer and Mensch have taken an obscure chapter of U.S. history and retold it as a thriller, with a dark-and-stormy-night beginning, short chapters, staccato one-sentence paragraphs, ominous foreshadowings and cliffhanger chapter endings. They aim to make the past come alive for a modern audience, but readers who enter this literary wayback machine are in for a bumpy ride ... There’s a great story in this material. The authors vividly portray Washington’s multiple challenges ... It’s a dramatic story, and the authors try to make the most of it, but they are working with a limited palette. While there’s abundant material on Colonial New York to draw on, proof of the extent of the actual conspiracy is patchy ... This shortage of facts may have impelled the authors to gin up the narrative using methods that Meltzer, a best-selling political thriller author, has mastered. The steady drumbeat of doom begins to feel strained, and the cliffhanger endings, frequent repetitions and constant reminders that George Washington is a very great man and William Tryon is a very, very bad man indeed begin to grate. It’s as if the authors can’t trust the reader to enjoy a complicated story with an ambiguous ending ... It's too bad.
...the authors extract what they can out of the historical record to tell a colorful story giving the reader a sense of Revolutionary-era Manhattan. The writing is punchy and the chapters are short, though the authors have an annoying habit of ending every chapter with a cliffhanger, even when they have to contrive one. One big obstacle in telling the story is a lack of source material about the precise nature of the plot against Washington. It was a secret, after all ... That story is almost certainly apocryphal. But what was the most likely plan? Scouring the existing evidence, the authors come up with a conclusion that seems as good as any that can be drawn more than two centuries later.
The First Conspiracy...about a scheme to kill Gen. George Washington during the early months of the American Revolution, reads like an imaginative thriller, but it's actually a work of painstakingly researched nonfiction. Even the parts that seem too good to be true check out ... The First Conspiracyshines a revelatory light on the treasonous plan that, if successful, would have altered the course of history. Washington, after all, was the glue holding the ragtag American army together.
...fast-paced ... What makes the story more intriguing is the portrayal of the divisions between loyalists and patriots in New York, as loyalty to the Crown is often underrepresented in Revolution histories ... Highly recommended for popular history fans, this work adds to the knowledge presented in David McCullough's 1776 and makes a great companion volume to John A. Nagy's Invisible Ink: Spycraft of the American Revolution.
Best-selling novelist and television-host Meltzer...and documentarian Mensch bring the fast pace and sensibility of a thriller to the Hickey Plot, a failed 1776 scheme to kidnap and possibly murder George Washington. They vividly evoke the world of occupied New York City in which the scheme unfolded ... What Meltzer and Mensch do bring out is how the scheme helped to inspire American innovations in defensive spycraft ... Readers who like their histories full of twists, turns, and cliff-hangers will enjoy this romp through the Revolution.