I’m shining a spotlight today on an interesting book that I received in April and found very engaging: One April After the War. April 1870, when this story takes place, and April 2022 lined up and a calendar accompanied my ARC, complete with notations of what occurred in the novel on any given day.
This book is actually book one of a series.
Here’s the overview:
Louisville, KY – Experience what life was like almost 200 years ago in G. S Boarman’s new series. One April After the War (GS Boarman, April 2022) follows the eccentric Mary Warner and the secret agents assigned to ensure her protection during her journey to Washington.
Fresh from concluding a counterfeiting sting in Cincinnati, Secret Service agents Merritt and Argent are tasked by President Ulysses S. Grant to convince Miss Warner to return with them to Washington, D.C. For the two Treasury agents, this simple assignment to escort the socially awkward and willful young woman on an 800-mile railroad journey from Louisville, Kentucky to the White House proves far more interesting and difficult than the men could have ever thought possible. And, in the face of danger, it may just turn out that Mary is more of an asset than a problem for the two agents.
For Mary Warner, the trip begins to take on a sinister meaning as she finds herself a virtual prisoner to Merritt and Argent. Madness, morality, and murder all swirl in a strange April storm at midnight turning this odd odyssey into something so much more than a mere trip between cities.
And here’s some info on the author, who is new to me:
G. S. Boarman: After the death of G. S. Boarman, a great niece cleaned out the old Kentucky family farmhouse and in the attic, amid the rusting coffee mill, the rickety outdated furniture that was still awaiting repairs, and the stacks of vermin-eaten Harper’s Weekly’s and Police Gazette’s, she found a curious box marked simply “M”.
On the kitchen floor, the metal hasps were flipped back and the top pried off. Lying on the top of a very neat and orderly collection of things was a scrapbook and lying loose inside the scrapbook was a note that said simply, “Please finish the story.” The scrapbook itself contained a rough outline of a narrative with sometimes undecipherable glosses and cryptic references to mysterious sources.
From letters and notebooks, ledgers and calendars, train schedules and stockholders’ reports, the story was slowly extracted and pieced together, and the small treasures, carefully wrapped and preserved in the box, took their place in the narrative.
Boarman’s will had already been read, probated, and executed, but the niece, as executrix, felt obligated to fulfill Boarman’s last wish — to breathe life into the long-ago story of a woman who held some importance to Boarman.
Ms. Boarman shared a Q&A session that I found really interesting.
- What sort of historical research did you do for One April After the War? What was your most helpful resource?
The first book I picked up that really inspired me to start writing was Illegal Tender: Counterfeiting and the Secret Service in Nineteenth-Century America (by David R. Johnson). Once I started formulating a plot and characters, I read any book or online source that I could find: books on counterfeiting, railroads (especially the iconic B&O), trains (types of engines, cars, boilers, brakes, anything), Grant’s presidency, the Secret Service (not much there), Reconstruction. Any time a new subject presented itself, I read about it, sometimes putting my book aside for weeks and months. But the most constant source was newspapers.com, which gave me the really interesting little tidbits that I think make the story seem real.
- Why did you choose Kentucky as the setting for your book?
I am a native Kentuckian, so it is natural that I should write about my home state. But more than that, I think Kentucky has been overlooked in regards to the consequences of being a border state during the Civil War. I think Kentucky suffered a true identity crisis at that time, both internally as well as externally (how the rest of the nation viewed her). I think Kentucky’s dual identity — as both a Union and a rebel state — was an ideal background for Mary Warner, struggling with her own identity.
- How does your book bend the gender roles that existed at the time period?
First, Mary Warner did not set out to break gender rules; she simply did not want to live under someone else’s arbitrary (as she saw them) rules. In some ways, she was childish about gender roles — she simply did not want to be denied all the things she saw her brothers could have as well as other men that she, frankly, thought she could best and therefore was better deserving of these social perks. The most outward way she exercised her objections was to wear pants, or trousers. She was not willing to do so in public but she refused to wear dresses while on her own land. At the time of the story, a woman could be jailed for wearing male attire and there were a few women who openly challenged authority on that score. Dr. Mary Walker was famous for wearing men’s clothing out in public and she was routinely followed by angry crowds who threw food and other organic material at her.
- Why did you choose to set your story in the late 1800s?
I wanted the story to happen in the early days of the Secret Service, which began in April 1865. The first chief of the SS was morally unappealing, as were many of his operatives, and I did not want to showcase that period. The second chief came in 1868 and there was a decided improvement in the ethics and professionalism of the Service. Then, I simply decided that my story would cover the entire decade 1870-1880. 1870 was far enough after the war that the nation was trying to move on, but not so far as to be a distant memory for the characters.
- What historical artifacts have you collected in order to help you ground your story?
I have inherited, through my mother’s family, several old pieces of furniture and a box full of old late-19th century photographs (none of them with names on them) and a slew of old books. My most prized possession, however, is my paternal grandfather’s gold pocket watch, given to him for his years of service on the old L&N railroad. This watch is an important item in the books.
- How did you feel when you discovered the April connection and how do you hope readers incorporate that into their reading experience?
All while I was writing and researching the book(s), I would periodically come across little tidbits of information that I took to be signs that I was meant to write this book. The first time this idea hit me came when I was looking at old maps of Martinsburg (central to Book III) and found that one of the streets was named Eulalia (Mary Warner’s middle name, the source of her pet family name Lally). The last time this feeling hit me came when I realized that April of 2022, when I planned to release the book, was the same as April of 1870; that is, they both start on Friday and Easter falls on April 17. The full moon falls a little earlier this year, but only by a day or two, not enough to affect Easter’s date. The Easter date was especially important because that meant that each chapter of Holy Week corresponded perfectly with Holy Week of this year. It just seemed a perfect and somehow ordained coincidence, so that readers can follow the story and the journey of the characters as it happened, so to speak, day by day (one chapter for each day of the month), this April, as if it were being re-lived this year.
If you like stories of the 1800’s with strong, interesting women characters, do yourself a favor and read One April After the War by G. S. Boarman, even though this April is past! The story is continued in Book 2. And I see there is Book 3, which takes place in June and follows our June 2022 exactly — so get reading!