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The Two Georges by Richard Dreyfus and Harry Turtledove
Published by Del Ray Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
The Two Georges by Richard Dreyfuss and Harry Turtledove is a lighter alternate history, a relief from the grim realism of Turtledove's Civil War alternative. This novel paints a world that is more pleasant and civilized, albeit less technologically advanced, than our own. In it, the differences between Britain and her colonies were settled peacibly and the Revolution was headed off before it even began. That world's 1990's seems much like an outgrowth of our world's Victorian era, albeit with a few minor technological advances. Socially, separate spheres and strict gender role definition is the rule. Short skirts are still considered somewhat daring atire for women, and the woman who chooses a professional career and an independent life is clearly the exception in a world where most women profess the cult of domesticity. Technologically, steam cars are the norm and take several minutes to warm up if the burner is not kept running constantly (apparently they never developed the flash-boiler system like the Draka universe steamcars, which appears to have removed that problem).
The central civic icon of the society is a Gainsborough painting entitled The Two Georges, which pictures Washington being presented to King George III at the momentous meeting in which rapproachment was achieved. It has long hung at the National Gallery in London, but as part of a special celebration it is to tour the North American Union. Its first stop is New Liverpool (Los Angeles).
However, violence erupts in this pacific society where major cities rarely have more than a dozen murders in a year. On the opening day of the painting's exhibition, the obnoxious steamer salesman Tricky Dick is murdered while haranguing a demonstration of miners outside the provincial governor's mansion. While the attention of the authorities is upon this outrage, the Sons of Liberty sneak in to purloin The Two Georges.
Suddenly Colonel Tom Bushell of the Royal American Mounted Police has a mystery to solve. He must recover the painting before the separatists destroy it. He starts his investigation with the New Liverpool headquarters of the Independence Party, which bears roughly the same relationship to the Sons of Liberty that Sein Fein bears to the Irish Republican Army in our world. An investigation of one of their supporters unearths a Russian-made rifle of the same make that killed Tricky Dick.
This leads him north to the Queen Caroline Islands, perilously close to the border of Russian Alaska. There he and a troop of Royal Marines have a shoot-out with four Sons of Liberty in a backwoods cabin. Several people on both sides are slain, but they discover a clue pointing toward Dashowah, capital of the Iroquois Nation, one of the more autonomous provinces of the NAU. He also discovers that the King-Emperor is to make a special visit to the NAU in a matter of weeks, and the painting had best be recovered at that time.
There Bushell finds evidence pointing to a wealthy seller of antiques and spirits. However, this man is very close-mouthed, so there are no obvious clues to pin anything on him. Furthermore, he has apparently been tipped off and has left for Pittsburgh. Bushell follows him there, and sees the rough life of the coal miners, who are more sympathetic to the Sons of Liberty than the general population. Unfortunately their quarry has already moved onward.
Bushell and his companions head to Boston, where he interviews the publisher of Common Sense, the official organ of the Independence Party. This is John F. Kennedy, and he is as handsome as his equivalent in our own timeline. He also has just as much of a libido. While they are in Boston, they finally track their quarry, only to end up with him dead in a gunfight.
Finally Bushell and his team head to Victoria (Washington DC), capital of the NAU. There he must work his way through the delicate dance of politics and diplomacy. As he tracks down the most obvious of the conspirators, he receives evidence that the Sons of Liberty have infiltrated RAMP. As things are coming down to the wire, he finally realizes where the missing painting has to be held. He retrieves it and hurries to the sovereign's arrival celebration barely in time to avert regicide.
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Review posted January 30, 1999