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Intrigue in Civil War-era Liverpool: new novel

As the American Civil War progressed, the deep political and social divide, the military battles, and the oft larger-than-life personalities frequently were news stories across Europe and many other parts of the globe. Names such as Lincoln, Davis, McClellan, Grant, Lee, Stuart, and Jackson eventually became quite familiar to foreign readers. Confederate sympathizers in France urged Napoleon III to take a more aggressive role in North America, where French troops were garrisoned in Mexico. Russian leadership and high society followed the unfolding events in the dis-United States with keen interest. Spanish, Italian, Irish, Portuguese, German, and other European newpapers often reported on the American War. Correspondents crowded the docks on port cities eager to interview disembarking passengers on ships arriving from America, hoping for some fresh tidbit on the conflict a continent away.

Perhaps the keenest interest was in Great Britain and Ireland. Authorized Confederate agents  in England worked to acquire arms such as Enfield rifles, ammunition, supplies, medicine, and naval vessels from the British, often trading cotton or gold for necessary war materiel. Daring blockade runners slipped through the Union blockaders, testing the Union’s ability to enforce what had been deemed as the Anaconda Plan to squeeze the life from the Confederacy by bottling up its key ports. Other Brits openly supported the Union government. Irishmen, sometimes with family members in the opposing armies in America, were open in their disdain or support for Abraham Lincoln’s war.

Talented novelist J.P. Maxwell has written a compelling new historical fiction the neatly captures these divergent sentiments in wartime Liverpool. Set against the backdrop of political intrigue, international espionage, and divided loyalties, Water Street: He’s here to win the War; His wife is here to stop him adds the element of familial discord and disloyalty to the already potent mix. Commander Xavier Banastre Dunwoody is a Confederate agent working with the British to launch a powerful new ironclad to aid the Rebel cause. He also is scheming behind the scenes on a daring plan that could tip the balance of power decidedly to the Confederates—goading the unsuspecting British to join the war effort, a move that should lead to the Union capitulating and allowing the South to gain its formal independence. Unknown to Dunwoody, his cunning and charming Southern belle wife Harriet is working covertly with a small network of companions to thwart his ambitious plans and save the Union.

Maxwell neatly introduces the characters, provides enough of a glimpse into their backstories and life experiences to give plausible explanations for their divided loyalties, and supports the unfolding storyline with a myriad of interesting side characters. We meet Conte Marie-Louise Louverture, the beautiful granddaughter of famed Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture. She becomes Harriet’s confidant and chief accomplice. Mr. Ake is the local law in Liverpool. Fervent in his quest to keep the peace and punish wrongdoers, the “West African leviathan” runs the “busiest bridewell gaol in the entire city.” Many other lesser (and some major) characters come and go (often violently, it turns out) as the plot unfolds.

Water Street is filled with intrigue, double-crosses, murders, and twists. Written for a British audience, some of the phrases, locations, idioms, and mannerisms may not be as familiar to American readers who have not had the fortune of spending much time in the UK. Those of us who have frequently England in business or pleasure will have an easier time with the local jargon. Maxwell’s storyline is brilliantly conceived and executed and, frankly, would make an interesting baseline for a film adaptation.

Click on this link to visit the publisher’s webpage for Water Street. This second link goes to the book’s page on GoodReads. This is the first book in the planned Harriet Farrell series.