AN EXPERIMENT IN TREASON: A Sir John Fielding Mystery

Bruce Alexander, Author . Putnam $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-399-14923-8

Sir John Fielding and his young protégé, Jeremy Proctor, those delightful Georgian versions of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, get mixed up in pre–Revolutionary War intrigue in their ninth outing (after 2001's Smuggler's Moon). A burglary of the home of the British secretary of state for colonial affairs turns violent, leading to the disappearance of some valuable letters that may be connected with the incipient rebellion in Massachusetts. While Sir John, the legendary Blind Beak of Bow Street, sits and thinks, Jeremy functions as his eyes and legs, interviewing witnesses, conducting surveillance and further developing his detective skills. Jeremy's burgeoning relationship with a servant girl adds depth to the drama. The sleuths enlist the aid of the legendary Samuel Johnson when the government, which is weighing the political merits of charging American patriots with treason, wants American envoy Benjamin Franklin interrogated as a suspect. Alexander evokes the period without anachronisms of word or thought to jar the reader. Franklin himself comes across as a fully realized character, with his strengths and frailties both on display. Given the relative unimportance of the puzzle element of the plot, this work ranks a little below Blind Justice and the superb Watery Grave. Still, Alexander's creations are as full of life and interest as when they debuted, a formidable accomplishment for a long series, one that mystery fans should hope has many more entries to come. (Oct. 14)

Forecast:Displaying this one alongside Edmund S. Morgan's recent short Franklin biography or H.W. Brands's The First American (2000) could attract Franklin fans, who've been waiting for a good fictional cameo ever since Herman Melville's caricature of the Philadelphia sage in Israel Potter (1855).

Reviewed on: 09/30/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
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