LIAR, TEMPTRESS, SOLDIER, SPY

Karen Abbott

Seventeen-year-old Belle Boyd, an avowed rebel with a dangerous temper, shot a Union soldier in her home, and became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her considerable charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds disguised herself as a man to enlist as a Union private named Frank Thompson, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the war and infiltrating enemy lines. The beautiful widow Rose O’Neal Greenhow engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring—even placing a former slave inside the Confederate White House—right under the noses of increasingly suspicious rebel detectives.

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Seventeen-year-old Belle Boyd, an avowed rebel with a dangerous temper, shot a Union soldier in her home, and became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her considerable charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds disguised herself as a man to enlist as a Union private named Frank Thompson, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the war and infiltrating enemy lines. The beautiful widow Rose O’Neal Greenhow engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring—even placing a former slave inside the Confederate White House—right under the noses of increasingly suspicious rebel detectives.

With a cast of real-life characters, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, Detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoléon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy shines a dramatic new light on these daring—and, until now, unsung—heroines.

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  • Harper Perennial
  • Paperback
  • September 2015
  • 544 Pages
  • 9780062092908

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About Karen Abbott

Karen Abbott is the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and American Rose. She has written for the New York Times Book Review, Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian magazine, Salon, and other publications.

Author Website

Praise

“With this book, Karen Abbott declares herself the John le Carré of Civil War espionage—with the added benefit that the saga she tells is all true and beautifully researched.”—Erik Larson, bestselling author of Devil in the White City

“A gripping page-turner that moves at a breathtaking clip through the dramatic events of the Civil War.”—Los Angeles Times

“Engrossing . . . Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is conscientiously researched and smoothly written and structured.”Wall Street Journal

Discussion Questions

1. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy examines how women’s roles changed when the men in their lives enlisted in the Civil War. What was the most difficult aspect of being a woman during this time? Do you think most women considered their increased responsibilities a hardship or a freedom?

2. The women defy traditional gender roles many times. How does each character use her femininity to achieve her goals? What did President Lincoln’s advisor mean when he lamented the proliferation of “fashionable female spies?”

3. Emma Edmonds disguised herself to enlist in the Union army. How do you think Emma (and ~400 more) pulled off this feat? What challenges come with living as imposters among men?

4. Discuss the title. How does it apply to each character? When and how was each a liar, a temptress, a soldier, and a spy?

5. Belle, Rose, and Elizabeth all employed servants/slaves during their espionage missions. Compare and contrast their treatment of servants/slaves. Did any of their views evolve?

6. Elizabeth’s servant Mary Jane Bowser is a key character. How does being African American affect her role as a spy? How did it make her job easier, or more difficult?

7. Discuss each character’s relationships with men. How did the women use men to their advantage? Were the women ever used themselves?

8. Belle looked up to Rose. Compare and contrast them. In your opinion, who was more successful? How did Belle’s reputation as a “fast girl” affect her work for the Confederacy?

9. Rose’s daughter is crucial in Rose’s espionage work. Was she justified in using her daughter? Would you have done the same?

10. Which spy did you relate to the most? Why? What motivated each woman?

11. Had you lived during the Civil War, would you have dared to be a spy?

12. Both North and South spoke of “atrocities” committed by the enemy. Which atrocity was the most shocking to you? Did one side exaggerate more?