Fiction is fun, but don't mess with the history

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

'The Lost Constitution' by William Martin (2007)

As promised before I got sidetracked with text searches in Google Books, the subject this time is The Lost Constitution, another New England historical by William Martin. The title gives away one big difference between this book and Cape Cod. The focus of this story is a document rather than a place. That difference releases the action from restriction to a small geographical area. Martin takes advantage of that release to let his story roam all over New England. Another thing the title tells you is that the earliest historical period in this novel will be close to 1787, when the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia to produce a new form of government for the United States. In fact, the historical story begins in 1786 with Shays' Rebellion. Martin describes those events as illustrating the need for a stronger national government to replace the weak Articles of Confederation.

The fictional element of the story takes the form of a quest for a semi-legendary 'lost' copy of the first draft of the Constitution belonging to Massachussets Convention delegate Rufus King. This plot line is similar to one in Cape Cod, which included a lost ship's log purportedly written by the captain of the Mayflower. The action shifts back and forth from the present to a sequence of historical periods and places, as a modern antiquities dealer attempts to trace the movements of the missing document through the years and generations. A collection of shady and/or dangerous characters are also pursuing the document, for a variety of reasons. This plot line gives The Lost Constitution a historical-thriller feel, a la Da Vinci Code. OK, no spoilers; let's move on to the five criteria:
  1. Did the novel inspire me to further historical research?

Yes. A large number of historical people are incorporated into the novel, from the aforementioned Daniel Shays and Rufus King to Harriet Beecher Stowe and Joshua Chamberlain. Interesting places too, such as Crawford Notch and Newport, R.I. during the Gilded Age. Plenty of inspiration here. Score = 4

  1. Did the novel include enough history to make it an interesting historical story?

Yes. The historical story traces the political, social and economic evolution of New England, including longer-term trends such as the rise and fall of the textile industry. Score = 4

  1. Was the depiction of historical events accurate?

As in Cape Cod, Martin seems to be very strong on historical accuracy. Score = 4

  1. Was the depiction of historical characters accurate?

Again similar to Cape Cod, historical characters are either mentioned only in passing or given small supporting roles. The biographical information given about these characters is accurate; there's just not much of it. Score = 3

  1. Would I read another novel by this author, continuing in this historical period, with these characters (or new ones)?

Definitely, although none of Martin's novels are written in series. I might give New England a break and read Citizen Washington next. Score = 4.

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