A Review of The Retribution Conspiracy by Dr. Samuel W. Mitcham
The full title on the novel cover is The Retribution Conspiracy: The Rise of the Confederate Secret Service. Below the cover title, one can read, A Novel Alternative History of the Lincoln Assassination Plot. Though I know a technique of writing historical fiction is to choose a topic, person, or historical incident that will interest people, I thought that this key moment in American history is a well-known topic that the general reading public knows something about. I wondered why he chose this topic. However, when I read this novel by Samuel W. Mitcham, I was truly surprised. I am an avid reader of history, fiction, creative nonfiction, and some historical fiction. I was hooked after reading the author’s introduction. After I completed a reading of this novel, demanded I write a review, something I’ve never done with a historical novel, though I’ve read and always admired Michener’s novels.
The anchor of the novel’s story is the story of the fictional protagonist, Rance Liebert. It is his story the reader follows through the novel. Mitcham weaves historical facts and situations into his life, weaves his journey from being the son of an Antebellum planter, to a soldier in the Mexican War, to a close friend to Jefferson Davis—the President of the Confederacy—to being a spy for the Confederacy. His journey is full of surprises as the novel relates his accomplishments and conflicts, his escape to Canada, and his marriage.
Mitcham’s writing is loaded with historical facts (easily documented), and through his excellent research, he successfully captures the idioms, the customs, and manners of behavior of the Antebellum South. This book is a vocabulary builder. Mitcham also successfully creates the world of the Confederate spies (and some of the Yankee spies) and the world of the Union and Confederate leaders. Mitcham successfully connects the readers to the inner lives and thinking of the characters. This is no easy task.
Unlike other historical fiction writers, Mitcham’s writing is not overloaded with dialogue. This is a romance novel in some ways, and it is surprising how the relationship between Lance and Sally develops. His writing style reminds me of the fiction of Larry McMurtry, and the nonfiction of Bill O’Reilly. There were many historical surprises for me, including the counterfeiting strategy of both Federal and Confederate spies. As in other good fiction, there are some historical characters who are villains not likable, and some who are worth our admiration.
This novel is so full of surprises that it will cause the readers to look at and perhaps question commonly accepted history from a fresh point of view. A careful reader will perhaps be shocked by some of the things he or she learns in the novel or in its footnotes. A reading will reveal how easily America’s history could have been much different. This is worth thinking about. For example, the Confederacy’s dealings with the British and French, and how that would have easily shifted the war into victory for the South.
The novel’s opening epigraph is: The past is a foreign country…They do things differently there.—L.P. Hartley. In this novel, the reader will learn the truth of that quote and the author hopes it will spark interest and research in this past age that forever changed America.
Dr. Mitcham is the author of more than forty books, a former helicopter pilot and company commander, and graduate of the U.S of the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College. His book is available on Amazon.