In an alternate history in which the American Civil War never happened, Victor, a former slave, works as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall service, hunting down escaped slaves. Victor considers himself to be a good man at heart, even though he does terrible work for the cost of his freedom. Slavery is protected by the US Constitution in the “Hard Four” southeastern states, and while on a case, Victor uncovers a secret arrangement between the federal government and the slaves states.
Victor hunts down the runaway known as Jackdaw, infiltrating the local abolitionist movement known as the Underground Airlines, rendering a suspenseful thrilling plot. As a narrator, Victor has an incredibly strong voice, and the most interesting mystery of all is Victor’s own story, which he discovers himself after suppressing memories of his plantation childhood for so long. And while on Jackdaw’s trail, Victor finds himself helping a stranger with whom he should not be involved — a young white woman and her black son on their own search.
The world in this alternate history is fascinating, with subtle parallels to our own, including a trend of northerners who only buy certified non-slavery goods. But the provocative concept is not expanded upon in the way I hoped, and serves as mostly a frame setting for the mystery story line. In addition, I am disappointed in Victor’s character arc, which I feel could be stronger as it parallels the reveal of the mystery of his past.
Recommended for fans of mystery crime thrillers!
“I bore silent witness, thinking, There is no army of abolition. This is what the world has for heroes. Ordinary men, squabbling and prideful. Hassling each other, doing their best, busting the world free. And men like me, behind fake papers and clear-glass spectacles, keeping it chained.”