The Pinkerton Detective Agency is a fascinating part of our history. Are you envisioning a clever, handsome man in a well-cut suit and matching black Stetson? (like James Garner in Maverick? Okay, so I’m showing my age!) A fascinating mix of cowboy and secret agent? Is it the idea that “they never sleep” until they’ve “gotten their man”?
The Pinkerton Detective Agency came about when Scottish immigrant Allen Pinkerton, working in a
small business in a Chicago suburb, turned in some information on illegal activity he’d been watching in his neighborhood. In a matter of years he’d become a trusted private detective and gathered the notice of the government well before the time of the CIA or FBI. Before Abraham Lincoln took office, Pinkertons were at work behind the scenes to ensure his safety, and went on to work for the Union Army. Post war, their offices expanded across the country due to high demand by business owners, politicians and law enforcement agencies.
Pinkertons were hired as detectives (public inquiry) or operatives (undercover) and sometimes on a temporary basis. At one time, those employed by the agency numbered more than those enlisted in the armed services.
While we romanticize their lives, it was both dangerous and isolating. An undercover operative might live under a false identity for years just to infiltrate an organization. And, as a ‘for-hire’ agency, Pinkertons often became enemies of the working class because of their association with big business and big government, including their reputation as union-busters.
Allen Pinkerton was an unusual self-made man driven by the idea that justice was above all part of a healthy democracy, even if justice meant living a lie… a means to an end. We have to assume he enjoyed intrigue and danger, as did most of his agents and operatives. They weren’t paid well, and living conditions were often difficult. After all, to infiltrate the Molly McGuires, Operative James McParland worked in the coal mines and took part in what amounted to brutal gang warfare, just to keep his cover over a three-year period.
Women were also agents—the original and most famous was Kate Warne—often acting as spies during the Civil War. Oooh! I smell a story!
Needless to say, the Pinkertons, or at least their legend, continues to fuel fictional stories…like mine.
A DANGEROUS DECEPTION
Jerome, Arizona Territory, 1899
When Andromeda Barr left her colorful past behind in pursuit of a normal—albeit solo—life, she didn’t exactly settle for the mundane. Performing is in her blood, and right now she has to believe she’s lying for all the right reasons—justice for the excluded, the overlooked of society—a debt she owes to the two unusual people who raised her.
Pinkerton Agent Connell O’Brien is on the trail of a wanted murderer holed up in ‘the wickedest town in the west.’ Hiding his identity is part of the job, but when he meets the surprising Miss Barrington, he begins to wonder how many secrets are too many.
Two close calls with disaster seem to suggest it’s time they both stop running from the guilt of the past and let mercy catch up, but will these two solo acts join forces before the danger of discovery becomes a matter of life or death?
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Readers, what Pinkerton story have you enjoyed, or what do you expect in a story when you hear there’s a Pinkerton character? What makes them compelling?