SCOUNDREL! THE SECRET MEMOIRS OF GENERAL JAMES WILKINSON, Keith Thompson, NorLights Press, 2012, 9781935254638
This humorous, well-researched novel of the American Revolution seems to be a one-off. There never was a sequel, at least not so far. I reviewed it back in the August, 2012 issue of Historical Novels Review, and even now, seven years later, I’m keeping my eyes open for Keith Thompson’s next one.
Historian Keith Thompson blends facts and fiction to tell a hilarious, riveting tale of James Wilkinson and the American Revolution. Thompson wrote his master’s thesis on Wilkinson, and he knows this deplorable historical figure inside and out. Thompson pretends to have found Wilkinson’s secret memoirs, and thus is able to tar this self-serving, treacherous conspirator almost more blackly than history actually does.
“Wilky” joins the rebelling Americans in 1776. Moving in the highest circles, this future army general participates reluctantly in the siege of Boston and Benedict Arnold’s invasion of Canada. He crosses the Delaware with Washington, although his intent is to betray the Americans for monetary gain. Wilkinson is amoral and lacks any conscience whatsoever. He is cowardly, dishonest, a backstabber, and a seducer of innocent women.
Thompson’s interpretation of early American history is contrarian, rich in detail, laugh-out-loud funny, and absolutely compelling. Heartbreaking descriptions of starving, ragged American troops in Canada and New Jersey provide dramatic counterpoint to the general tone of droll irreverence. The sensuality level is fairly mild, despite Wilkinson’s frequent skirt-chasing. His inventive love maneuver, the “Wilky Roll,” is probably impossible, but will have the reader rolling, too–onto the floor with laughter.
Thompson was lucky enough to obtain flattering cover blurbs from Wilkinson’s contemporaries. George Washington terms the novel: “A book that should be read by all Americans.” Thomas Jefferson comments: “I would recommend this book above all others.” Their “praise” is a little overstated, but Scoundrel, the first in a series, is highly recommended.