Abilgail Adams, the wife of John Adams, is a New England Patriot in colonies that are still under the control of King George of England. Trying to run her house, aid her husband, and raise their children is difficult at the best of times, and with England coming down heavily on the colonies in order to try and bring them to heel, it is no easier.
Abigail is contacted by her nephew, Horace Thaxter, and finds out that an attempt has been made on his life after he was contracted to write a letter on behalf of a mysterious woman. Unusually, the letter was written in Arabic, which Horace had some knowledge of, but after he did the translation, someone drugged him and tried to drag him into a carriage out on the streets, and he isn't sure that his attackers were either a person in employ of the woman who hired him, determined to silence anything he might have to let slip about the letter, or someone who may have wanted the woman dead or disappeared as well, as nobody seems to have seen her again afterwards.
Abigail, worried on Horace's behalf, travels to Harvard to find out what is going on, and discovers that there is another mystery brewing as well, surrounding some books purchased on the supposed behalf of the college, some of which are very dirty books indeed, being full of licentiousness and filth, while others are on chemistry. Nevertheless, the books seem to be disappearing from those who owned them, and a volume bought by Horace in Arabic is merely one of them. Could the problem with the disappearing woman who may or may not have been trying to kill Horace be behind it, or is she merely caught up in the same problem?
Meanwhile, one of Horace's only friends at college, a fellow student, is murdered in the middle of the night, and some of his books stolen. Suspicion falls on his black manservant, who had drunk overly much of his master's wine, and as a result, quarreled quite loudly with him. Those who heard the argument assume that the manservant killed his master, and figure it is a fait accompli to arrest him and return him to the boy's father, who can then kill the manservant for killing his master, which is a capital crime in the Colonies. But neither Horace nor Abigail believe the manservant killed his master, and Abigail is determined to get to the truth of the crime before the young man's fianceé can add her own voice to those that call the servant the murderer.
Meanwhile, Abigail must also work to discover the truth behind the letter that Horace translated for the woman, one that spoke of hidden pirate treasure. It's no secret that the Sons of Liberty need gold to fight the forces of the King, and also that anyone would want the money that a pirate treasure represents. But the books that are being stolen seem to connect to the stories of a hidden treasure in a strange way, and Abigail and Horace Thaxter will have to travel into New York State to find the truth of the stories and how the treasure connects to the books and acts of murder. But can Abigail find the truth when so many want her to fail and find the riches for themselves? And what if the treasure isn't gold or jewels at all, but a far more dangerous secret that could lead to many, many more deaths?
I like Abigail Adams as a detective, somewhat because there aren't that many mystery series that are set in this particular time and place, but also because she really was a formidable and intelligent woman who probably would have been excellent at solving mysteries had she actually come across them in real life. She was not only intelligent, but well-educated as few women of her time were, and she arranged that her own daughters were educated as well. If there is such a thing as a "Renaissance woman" in the same way that there are "Renaissance Men", she is definitely one of them.
I also liked the stories in the book and how they all came together. The early colonial period certainly was at the same time as Caribbean piracy, and i like how the stories all tied in together with the chemistry and biology books, and the final revelation as to what this "treasure" was that the original owners of the books were working on. It was something I rarely see used in historical mysteries, and it holds just as much shock as the ending of "The West End Horror" did back when I first read it in the 70's. A superb story!
I highly recommend this book for the way that the historical facts and details have been interwoven with story elements of this book, introducing you to the way things were and the facts of history that you might not have put together on your own before (like the colonial period and pirate treasure being so close together, along with true historical details of the real Abigail Adams. I definitely recommend this series, and this volume.