Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.
The Wilson Deception is a sequel to Stewart’s The Lincoln Deception, which involves two men Jamie Fraser and Speed Cook, discovering a secret about Lincoln’s assassination. This sequel takes place years later, at the close of WW I. Both Speed and Jamie find themselves in Europe during the peace conference for different reasons. Speed is there to discover what has happened to his son Joshua, and Jamie is there because he joined the Army as a doctor to avoid troubles at home. Eventually, the two run into each other, and Fraser agrees to help Cook’s son, who has been falsely found guilty of desertion.
The first book succeeded because it presented two men who respect each other, but who look at life differently, largely because Speed Cook is a black man and Jamie Fraser is white. In this volume, Speed, in the beginning at least, gets more page time than Jamie, and Speed and Joshua’s story is far more interesting than the problems with Jamie’s marriage. In fact, this is the weakest part of the book is this sub-plot of Jamie’s marriage. It feels like little more than a needed plot point, and is solved so easily, a reader can be forgiven that it happened.
Luckily that is only a small part of the novel. Stewart has his fictional pair run into some heavy historical figures. Besides President Wilson, there is also Lawrence of Arabia, the Dulles brother (Allen and Foster), and Clemenceau. In fact, the only good point about the marriage sub-plot is that it allows Stewart to have Clemenceau give a very French and very male comment about marriage.
In order to free Joshua, Speed and Jamie make various bargains with various devils, or perhaps angels. This leads them to become, to a degree, spies as various countries struggle to get various things out of the peace conference. Both Jamie and Joshua find themselves closer to power than either would like to be. While it might sound, at first, far-fetched the spy plot does make sense and works quite well in the novel.
The stellar point of the book is Stewart’s ability to capture time and place. Fraser and Cook are different but they respect each other and trust each other. Joshua’s struggles in the army are wonderfully, if heart-breaking, drawn. While the focus on race that made a significant portion of the first book isn’t quite as dominant here (Joshua’s problem is a result of racist attitudes and Wilson’s views are not whitewashed), this sequel does focus more on a more global issue of race, or to be more blunt, the attitude of the rich white West to determine the future of everybody.
Both Fraser’s wife and daughter do make an appearance and contribute to the plot. While Eliza is a likable character, of the two, Violet, the daughter, shines the best and, in some ways, provides insight into her parents. In some ways, she possesses a spirit of life that her two parents lack. It wouldn’t surprise me if Stewart writes a book featuring Joshua and Violet.
While an in-depth knowledge of the time period isn’t required to understand the book (and Stewart’s afterword does point the interested reader to a few sources), I would highly recommend reading Paris, 1919 prior or just after reading this. It covers the time period of the novel, and provides background that well heightens enjoyment of the plot. Stewart himself lauds Paris 1919 in the afterword.