In some ways a sequel to his well-researched Jefferson (1993), Byrd's latest is a superior novel to that earlier effortlusty and lively in its view of the American political scene, circa 1828, yet also keenly aware of the underlying issues gripping the nation as it expanded westward.
As Andrew Jackson squares off against incumbent President John Quincy Adams, having won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote in 1824, the split between eastern elitism and western democracy seems more pronounced than ever. David Chase, a young expatriate writer, has been lured from Paris to Boston with a tempting commission to do an "honest" biography of Jackson, although the anti-Jackson sentiments of his patron are no secret. Chase visits Washington to seek sources for his book and to meet Hogwood, his predecessor, whose infirmity has cost him the project Chase now pursues. Sucked into the whirl of life in the capital, befriended by the president's dissolute son Charles, smitten with Hogwood's lovely daughter Emma, Chase can't seem to put pen to paper before his patron comes to town and puts him on the stage to Nashville: Jackson country. There, he meets Old Hickory, whose right-hand man allows him to become part of Jackson's entourage, until a long-kept secret about certain youthful, adulterous indiscretions by the candidate's wife threatens to come to the surface. Since the indiscretions involve the brother of Chase's patron, the writer instantly becomes persona non grata; but, left to his own devices, he tracks down the letters that will undo Jacksonand then has to make the painful decision about whether to use them.
Jackson proves less a figure than a figurehead here, while fictional characters are given the run of the story, which may disappoint historical purists. But the zeitgeist is embodied to perfection, and the result is a truly, and substantially, entertaining tale.