American Falls Essay - Critical Essays

John Calvin Batchelor

American Falls

In AMERICAN FALLS, the author has combined two popular genres, the historical novel and the spy story, with generally satisfactory results. The plot turns on the efforts of Captain Amaziah Butter of the United States Secret Service to thwart a plan concocted by Rebel guerrillas in the last months of 1864 to disrupt urban areas around the country and force an end to the war on terms favorable to the Confederacy. The focus of Butter’s attention is John Oliphant, a Confederate agent who has returned from Europe to coordinate the activities of a group of hotheaded raiders. For reasons of his own, Oliphant is unenthusiastic about the guerrilla actions, but both he and Butter are trapped by forces beyond their control, as they move toward a dramatic confrontation in the cave beneath the falls at Niagara.

Batchelor does a masterful job of evoking the confused and weary atmosphere of New York and Washington at wartime. Copperhead politicians, fiery Irish laborers, black spies, and vengeful veterans form a volatile mixture ready to explode at the slightest provocation, and even though the outcome of the war is known, the author manages to maintain enough suspense to keep the reader involved. He is less successful with the main characters, whose motivations are sometimes obscure or anachronistic, but this seems a minor flaw in a novel filled with lively and vivid scenic effects.