Why Pinkertons? By Debra E. Marvin

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.


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?

Buy Debra’s book here on Amazon

I’ll be giving away one digital ebook of A Dangerous Deception and one paperback to two random commenters.  (Please note if you are interested and if you can accept a kindle version!)

And, at this time, my newsletter promotion is still open. New Subscribers will be entered in a chance to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card. 

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?    




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44 thoughts on “Why Pinkertons? By Debra E. Marvin”

  1. A Pinkerton has internal boundaries vs laws as most would be held to abide by. Whatever it takes works for them. That is why their entering a story brings about the unknown. A stranger that slips in and out of scenes not to be identified May be a Pi Merton. They are mysterious. Gotta love the unknown.

    • Thanks so much Jerri! I’ve read quite a bit about them and they have a dark history during the Homestead Strike, but there is certainly an allure about their role in our history! Thanks so much for commenting!

  2. Interesting post. Always love learning about things that end up in the stories. I love it when Pinkertons pop up in stories, especially women. I do probably tend to glamorize them but I’m sure it was hard, tedious work and not all that glamorous.

    Yes, I can accept a kindle version, thanks.

    • Hi Sally,
      sorry I replied earlier but apparently it didn’t go through? Being undercover with no one knowing must have been very isolating. And any communication you made to your boss or other agents put you in jeopardy. And some did it for months or years until they had enough evidence to win a court case. So definitely not glamorous! I appreciate your comment. Thank you!

  3. I’m a virtual newbie to the reading world so I haven’t read a book that had more than the nention of Pinkertons.i just started reading again in November 2016 after decades of not reading. My first husband worked for Pinkerton security for a little while. It surprised me when i found out they were still around. I’d love the opportunity to read your book. A giveaway is an awesome way to find a new author to add to my go to authors list.

    • I’m glad you are back into reading and I’d love to stay in touch. The Pinkertons are now into high tech global security. It’s quite interesting! Thanks for your interest! I hope you take a chance on my book!

  4. I have read a few Pinkerton stories. They are always fascinating. They are a part of our history that make things seem bigger.

    • I agree. Bigger than life really. True secret agents! Thanks for commenting! Best wishes in the giveaways!

    • Hi Melanie!
      I know you are on my newsletter list and I appreciate it!
      Thanks for commenting! Enjoy the rest of summer. I’m sort of eagerly looking forward to September, myself…

    • Janine. Thanks so much! I hope you’ll feel the same about the story. It’s about 40k so it’s longer than some novellas. I had so much fun with this one!

  5. Interesting post. I’ve read a few books where Pinkertom’s agents were mentioned. So I look forward to reading your book with a female agent. Thank you for sharing.

    • I know that Kathleen Y’Barbo’s new story with Barbour has a Pinkerton character! I’m looking forward to that! Thanks for commenting, Carol! I hope you get a chance to read it!

    • Quilt Lady. I have an idea who you are… I love mysteries!
      Thanks. I had a lot of fun with this plot and my characters proved to lead me on a merry chase!

  6. I think the Pinkerton reputation and aura of danger is what intrigues most people into liking them and the stories about them.

    • Hi Susan!
      I agree. When my publisher mentioned this, I jumped right on it. Partially because I knew it would be fun to research and because I find them intriguing as well! And Pinkerton was way ahead of his time, hiring a female operative early in the game.

  7. I’m an author and don’t want to be considered for your contest. But I finally used a Pinkerton in the last book I wrote. I think they’re useful as a kind of law outside of the law or law for hire. Interesting blog, always learn something on this site.

    • Yes, a great way to incorporate undercover operatives in a story set after 1865 or so. And they were active in most parts of the country with multiple offices. Thanks for commenting, and yes this is a great blog!

  8. I have to run and do errands and work but I’ll catch up later. It’s so nice to see comments! I’m thrilled.

  9. I just got a copy, Debra! I love Pinkerton Detective stories. Did you watch the show? One short season and it was gone!!! But you can still watch the ten episodes they made somewhere…Netflix maybe?

    • Yes, I’ve watched them all a few times. I think there are about 20 episodes and that’s it. It was funny to see so much snow (filmed in Canada) How many months worth of snow does Kansas City get?

      It was a bit hokey but fun, and set about 2 decades before my story but I’d also recommend it!
      thanks, Mary! I appreciate the purchase!

  10. Haven’t read much about Pinkertons. Would love to be more educated! Please enter me in the giveaway (can be ebook). Thanks!

    • Gosh, I know more than I need to, myself. Thanks to kindle there’s a lot of old books now available . And this is what historical writers do. Dig deep for things they can’t use! I know you are on my newsletter list, too. I appreciate it!

  11. I expect action and fun! I have read stories about Pinkerton agents but right now can’t remember the titles.
    Thanks for the chance at the giveaway!

    • Hi Faith! Thanks for commenting. I added a little something extra to this story to make sure my herione could hold her own. I hope you get a chance to read it and enjoy!

    • I hope you take a chance on mine! Plus there’s a secret in my heroine’s past that gave her some interesting skills!

    • Thanks Caryl! Always nice to see you. I hope you get a chance to read A Dangerous Deception. My ARC readers loved it!

  12. Pinkerton novels are fascinating since they are from another era which interests me greatly. Your book would be greatly enjoyed.

    • Thanks Anne. This is also fun as it mixes that Gilded Age with the western Frontier. As well as (the circus– don’t tell) and a handsome Irishman.

  13. Reading about the Pinkerton detectives is always an interesting adventure. I love books that have authentic individuals from that period.

    • I think you’d enjoy the juggling act between these two characters. Thanks so much for commenting, April!

  14. Pinkerton agents sound unique because they are real men and women whose values and principles are never questioned. I enjoyed your wonderful post and the book sounds captivating and unforgettable.

  15. I have only read one Pinkerton book and that was several years ago. I expect the story to involve an agent who is trying to discover a criminal and bring them to justice. I expect them tottery to keep their undercover status with everyone until the case is finished. Life does have a way of getting in the way at times and I can imagine instances that might make this difficult. The Pinkerton Agency employed all types of people to fit their needs and gave women a job opportunity unheard of at that time in history.
    Thank you for an interesting post. Kindle OK but I prefer a “real” book. Books get lost on my kindle.

    • Hi Patricia!
      I have so many books on my kindle I had to find a way to organize them into categories. That helped aa lot. But it’s still my preferred choice as I can change the font size or have it read to me. And the TEXT TO AUDIO Voices are amazingly better than you’d expect.
      Thanks for commenting. I found the Pinkerton agents of the past even more interesting after digging into their history. I hope you enjoy the book if you get a chance to read it. Thank you!

  16. I love fascinating tidbits of different historian,facts.. Seems part iof what I enjoy about historical fiction. Book sounds intriguing and fascinating would love to have a chance to read it..thanks fir having thus chance to win.it us very generous of you..

  17. I find Pinkerton stories fascinating and have read and few but can’t remember their title right now. I find stories about Pinkerton stories intriguing. Your book sounds fascinating and would love to have a chance to read it. Thank you

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