The First Conspiracy is a fascinating story that reads like a modern-day thriller instead of an 18th century historical text.
The bizarre-but-true plot takes place in 1776, during the first months of the Revolutionary War. Don’t go snoozing yet. This is not a stuffy history lesson about cobblestone streets and powdered wigs before the era of indoor plumbing. Think instead of the John Adams HBO series with a healthy infusion of Madeira. This is crime and conspiracies and espionage and betrayal and counterfeiting. This is, after all, a Brad Meltzer page-turning mystery.
The story surrounds a number of Loyalists who wish to see the colonial uprising end with a whimper, not a shot heard ‘round the world. Led by New York’s British-installed governor William Tryon and mayor David Mathews, the plot is to remove General Washington – preferably mortally – through the bribery of those closest to him, his own bodyguards known as the Life Guards. Yet through a series of crazy coincidences and even convenient stupidity, the secret plot is – spoiler alert – thwarted by America’s first counterespionage committee.
The novel presents a fascinating story, and Meltzer, along with co-author Josh Mensch, does an excellent job explaining it. Perhaps a little too concisely. The ending wraps up all rather quickly once the British invasion of New York begins. There is also a healthy acknowledgement of interpretation as, understandably, a great number of secret correspondences are simply not available. Meltzer and Mensch smoothly provide Spackle for those cracks but the filler is noticeable when dealing with walls of brick.
As a history lesson masquerading as a mass-market thriller, The First Conspiracy is a fun, engaging read for the patriot lurking in all of us.