©2013 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Book Reviews
Pinkerton's Great Detective: The Amazing Life and Times of James
McParlandBy Beau Riffenburgh
That question eventually led Beau Riffenburgh to this biography of Pinkerton
agent James McParland, who tracked the Hole in the Wall Gang and went undercover
in tough mining towns across the country. A poor Irish immigrant who raised
himself from nothing and lived by his wits for years, McParland drew both praise
and scorn during his lifetime as an undercover agent who infiltrated the Molly
Maguires in an era of deadly Pennsylvania coal mine violence before heading out
Riffenburgh is a conscience researcher and writer who uncovers the records of
McParland's actions and writings. This is essential in a biography such as this,
as one's view of the subject may well depend on one's political viewpoint. Was
McParland a turncoat to his people or someone who served justice?
Well, it depends a great deal on one's point of view. Riffenburgh does a
great job of placing McParland within his own times. Those were far different
from today's in that criminal cases were brought by those who could afford to
prosecute. But there also are parallels to today with company owners who want to
pay workers the least amount possible, have them indebted to the company store
and still be able to fire them at will.
For McParland to drop into such a situation, and possibly with the ultimate
goal of making sure he followed the tenents of his church, Riffenburgh makes it
easy to see that his subject's role was not easy. The author also uses the array
of historical record available to not sway the reader, but instead to place the
reader squarely within the context of what can be shown of those turbulent
The author also does a thorough job of describing the times in which
McParland operated from more than one viewpoint. Mine owners and workers who
were either indebted to the company store or faced being fired did not view the
world in the same way, and Riffenburgh does well to describe both viewpoints.
The even-handed approach may not change anyone's mind, but it does bring into
focus what the stakes were for everyone involved, including McParland.
For anyone who wondered the same thing that Paul Newman did in that classic
film, and for those wonder about those times, Pinkerton's Great
Detective is an excellent way to find some answers.
©2013 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Book Reviews and reprinted with permission