Grade Level: Upper Middle/High School
“We never sleep” was the motto of the first private eye in the United States. Allan Pinkerton, an immigrant from Scotland, made a name for himself as Chicago’s best and only private eye. The Hour of Peril by Daniel Stashower follows the early years of Pinkerton and ultimately outlines how he came to Baltimore to uncover a plot to kill the newly elected President: Abraham Lincoln.
The book is divided into three parts. Part one does an outstanding job of describing the life of Allan Pinkerton. The reader is taken all the way to Scotland during a time of civil unrest and introduced to the fiercely passionate Allan. Stashower brings us into the story of a youngman caught up in the Chartist movement of his day. So much so, that he will become a fugitive and board a boat to America with his new wife.
Stashower gives the reader many details depicting the early life of Pinkerton in the United States. Using many of Allan Pinkerton’s own words, Stashower portrays the story of the unlikely detective.
The meat of the story really develops in part two. There, Stashower introduces the reader to the turmoils of America in the late 1850s. After Lincoln was elected president, there was an outcry from the Southern states, many of which seceded. Maryland is what we call a border state. It did not secede and housed both pro-slavery and anti-slavery sentiments. It is discovered that there is a plot to kill Lincoln to his way through Baltimore en route to DC. Allan Pinkerton is hired by a railroad owner to investigate these rumors and foil the plot to kill the president-elect.
Part three ultimately wraps up the plot and ends with the installation of Lincoln in the White House.
This book is well written and plays out like an old fashioned mystery. I was eager to continue reading to learn the details. Daniel Stashower moves back and forth between Pinkerton’s investigation in Baltimore and Lincoln’s travels to the capital. Because of the back and forth, the reader is constantly wondering if Pinkerton will foil the plot in time for Lincoln to safely pass through Baltimore on his way to the White House.
This book would be a great read if your child already has some basic understanding of the tension in the United States at this time. It is a rather lengthy book at 340 pages, but is well researched. The use of primary sources is outstanding and really allows the reader into the thoughts and feelings of all of those involved at the time. There are two specific instances to be aware of: on page 123 there is a description of one of the plotters spending time with a woman of ill repute. The gentlemen is said to have “hugged and kissed” this woman for over an hour. That is as far as the description of the scene goes. The other area to be aware of is the use of the word G–D— in the primary sources. These particular sources, found on page 83, are addressed to the president and written by southern sympathizers.
- Draw Pinkerton & Lincoln’s heads and create a conversation between the two of them.
- OR create a text message conversation between Lincoln & Pinkerton. (Or any two characters)
- Since the book moves forward and back through time, creating a timeline might be really helpful. Timelines are a great way to practice chronology.
- Create biographies for some of the minor characters like Pinkerton’s detectives or Lincoln’s travel companions.
- Create a biography/backstory for the detective’s characters.
- Create a facebook or instagram for any of the characters in the book.