I have what may be an unusual yardstick for historical fiction - does the author tell us what the toilet facilities are? Yeah, it is weird, but I find that if the author doesn't give us this information they often haven't done their research and just setting the book in the past so the characters can wear pretty costumes.
So I am pleased to say that Paper Woman tells us about the (sometimes icky) facts of life in 1780. And, since author Suzanne Adair is a Revolutionary War re-enactor, you know that she has first-hand knowledge on this subject. But enough about outhouses, chamber pots, and bushes...
Paper Woman is set in Alton, Georgia in 1780. The main character is Sophie Barton, a thirty-three year old widow who lives with her father and helps him run his printing business. In 1780, battles are being fought in hot spots in the American colonies between local militias and English soldiers, while other areas were largely peaceful. Alton has been quiet so far, but Sophie knows her father and his friends in the Safety Committee are up to something. Sophie isn't sure what is happening, but the local British garrison has become quite interested in her father's activities, two mysterious Spaniards show up, and the local Creek Indians are being seen in large groups. When her father and two other men are murdered under unusual circumstances and she decodes secret messages sent to her father, Sophie decides to keep his rendez-vous with the mysterious message sender to determine what he knows of her father's death.
Sophie and her traveling companions begin a dangerous journey South towards their destination in Havanna, Cuba. Along the way, they realize that the rendez-vous message is not as secret as they thought and their lives depend on unraveling political intrigues and discovering just who their enemies and allies are.
Paper Woman is not your traditional mystery, but it has lots of good stuff in it - adventure, suspense, intrigue, and some romance, too. There are several things I particularly like about this book. First, Adair shows life in 1780 as messy, dangerous, and smelly instead of glamorizing it. Second, she resists "name-dropping" and incorporating famous revolutionary figures into the plot, which often feels fake. She relies instead on good fictional characters to carry the story. Third, she shows the incredible diverse population of the time - colonists from different countries, English soldiers, French and Spanish settlers from Louisiana and Florida, Indian tribes, slaves - all were part of the struggle for control of the colonies and all have a part in this story.
Favorite character? Jacques le Coeuvre and his not-so-tall tales. Did I guess it? No, the political intrigue was beyond me so I just gave up and enjoyed the book. Will I read another? Yes.