|First, i'll dispose of the earlier review (on
Amazon) that says that the reviewer finds it difficult to believe that,
given the conditions that obtained in 1775, the Colonies would possibly have
stayed (peacefully) in the Empire.
However, if one reads this book carefully, one sees that the actual changes
in history began quite a few years before 1775... thus, in the world of this
book, the conditions that we know of from *our* 1775 didn't exist in 1775.
The alternate history aspect, which is pretty much Turtledove's strong suite,
is as meticulous as usual ("Worldwar", etc.), but the presence of the
collaborator seems apparent as well. There is an air of straight-faced jokey
humour that could, but (for me anyway) doesn't detract from the story.
[An example: other reviewers have mentioned the presence of (and assassination
of) Richard Nixon as "Tricky/Honest Dick", the used-car magnate in the story;
the real punchline of that joke is when we are casually informed that the
assassination was the work of a lone gunman firing form a nearby grassy knoll.]
I wonder whether that collaborator actually *was* Richard Dreyfuss (and i've
just realised that i know someone who could tell me, if he will...), but
that's not really important, what's inmportant is that the collaboration
gives us a book that like Turtledove's other books in it meticulousness and
attention to historical detail, but rather different in both structure and
The story is rather basic, which is fine, as it's really a hook to hang the
historical exposition on: Famous painting of the title is stolen while on
exhibition in the Colonies. Protagonist is local high-ranking cop who sets
out to fetch it back. This story is told smoothly and straightforwardly,
remaining focussed on the protagonist and not jumping all over the map as
the "Worldwar" and "Great War" books have tended to do.
But, for me, it's the incidentals that fill in the picture around the edges,
as the famous painting is filled around the edges with historical figures
including the painter himself -- the incidentals that tell us about this
The overall pace of life, for instance, is rather more leisurely than ours,
and the preferred method of comfortable travel is by dirigible airship...
i found it rather amusing that most, if not all, of the airships were named,
and mostly bore the names of famous trains in our universe. Cars are steamers
(and trains still are) (Though i wonder about the limited number of aeroplanes
in use, and, in fact, about the airships themselves -- steam has been found,
in our universe, impractical for such applications.)
Most of the characters are pretty well stock caricatures, though often a
bit more believable than the usual Turtledove character (or that may just
be my imagination) with the exception of Colonel Tom Bushell, the protagonist,
who is rather more fully drawn than the rest. Hitchcock would have loved
the convolutions of the trail Bushell and his adjutant follow and likewise
would have loved the potentially-complex possible motives of several of the
All in all, well worth the read.