Lane's account of Whitley's infiltration of the Klan is endlessly gripping, and he recounts it with an impressive narrative tension. He also does an excellent job placing the operation in historical context, chronicling the racism and resentment that built up in the South following the end of the Civil War. It can be difficult, though necessary, to read his descriptions of the Klan's reign of terror, but Lane is careful not to sensationalize the inhuman violence that was the group's stock-in-trade ... Lane proves himself to be an excellent researcher and writer, and Freedom's Detective is a captivating account of a flawed but remarkable man.
... a lively and well-researched account of Whitley’s checkered career and the surprising early years of the Secret Service ... Mr. Lane... has a gift for storytelling. But he allows his narrative to get bogged down in the morass of Gilded Age corruption, as when he discusses Whitley’s involvement in a convoluted conspiracy to frame a top White House aide’s political opponent ... But Mr. Lane doesn’t miss the real story, which was how the covert campaign against the Klan came to be forgotten by future generations.
Bolstered by deep research into government documents and press accounts, Freedom’s Detective paints an illuminating portrait of Whitley, an intriguing representative of Reconstruction’s feats and fiascos. It does not, however, always cohere as a work of narrative history. Lane jumps back and forth in time while his protagonist is battling counterfeiters and Klansmen, and it can be difficult to keep Whitley’s life in order. In the chapters on the Secret Service campaigns against the Klan, Whitley becomes less of a presence as his agents move into the thick of the action ... Moreover, although Lane deftly positions Whitley within American politics after the Civil War, the main figures are all white — even in the chapters on racially motivated violence. Lane is sensitive to the struggles of African Americans, but he could have fleshed out the perspectives of more black characters, which would have illustrated the true resonance of the Ku Klux Klan. Strangely, for a book stuffed with tales of racist brutality, Freedom’s Detective might underplay the terror that animated the Reconstruction South.