THE TRIAL AND EXECUTION OF THE TRAITOR GEORGE WASHINGTON
by Charles Rosenberg
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Charles Rosenberg’s The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washington contains some spoilers right in the title. This is an alternate history in which Lord North, the Prime Minister of England during the Revolutionary War, hatches an audacious plot to kidnap George Washington. Not really expecting the plot to succeed, North even puts hurdles in his own way, which are nevertheless overcome and a captive Washington is brought to London to stand trial for treason and face execution.
Jeremiah Black is given the task of kidnapping Washington with the promise of promotion if he succeeds. While Black knows the chance of success is low, he doesn’t realize how much the cards are stacked against him, with the need to ride through heavily occupied enemy country, collaborators whose goals are Washington’s death rather than capture, and a tiny window for extraction from the colonies among others. Nevertheless, he manages to bring Washington back to London to stand trial.
North, on the other hand, finds himself surprised at the success of the mission and must figure out what to do. He can use Washington as a bargaining chip, but George III is adamant that Washington be held captive in the Tower of London and eventually executed. Once Washington’s presence in London is confirmed, various factions in London have their own ideas about what should happen to him.
Rosenberg juggles four viewpoints throughout the novel, although some of them appear most often for only parts of the book. He opens by following Black on his adventure, then shifts to North and Ethan Abbott, the colonies’ first ambassador to Great Britain, sent to seek Washington’s release, and finally Abraham Hobhouse, a young American-born attorney living in London who accepts the role of Washington’s barrister for the trial of the eighteenth century.
The book demonstrates not only Rosenberg’s ability to create interesting and believable characters, both those based on historical figures like Washington and North, but also fictional characters, like Hobhouse, Abbott, and Black. Fortunately, all of these characters are interesting because Rosenberg has a tendency to ignore his characters after establishing them. Black figures prominently in the opening section of the book and then fades into the background once Washington arrives in London and Abbott moves front and center. Occasionally, Rosenberg reminds the reader the Black is keeping tabs on Washington in the Tower of London, but he becomes practically invisible. Abbott doesn’t suffer quite the same fate when Rosenberg turns his attention to Hobhouse.
Much of the book is a procedural, exploring the political ramifications of North’s plan, both the way it is seen by the world, the way in impacts North’s relationship with George III, and the opening it may give to the Americans to claim country status. There is also a legal procedural as Hobhouse must figure out how to defend a man who is clearly guilty of taking up arms against the crown, no matter what legal evasions Washington and Abbott hope to deploy. Rosenberg handles all of these things well, but in the end, the story seems to peter out. Once Rosenberg wraps up all his plots, there is no indication of where the story should go, just that there are questions left unanswered about the path his world will take, along with the fates of the various characters and how their proximity to Washington has changed their destinies.
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