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The Wilson Deception (A Fraser and Cook Mystery) - David O. Stewart

"The Wilson Deception" is a novel that seamlessly blends in both elements of the historical and the fictional amid a Shakespearan drama known as the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Besides, President Wilson, the other historical figures who act and strut upon the stage are: Robert Lansing, Wilson's Secretary of State (a man Wilson kept in the dark about much of what was being hammered out at the peace conference); his nephews John Foster and Allen Dulles; Lawrence of Arabia; Winston Churchill; Premier Georges Clemenceau of France; and Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Great Britain.

On the fictional side enters James ("Jamie") Fraser, a one-time small-town country doctor from Ohio who, once a widower, remarried, and moved with his second wife Eliza to New York, where he became a specialist. (With America's entry into World War I, he joined the Army Medical Corps and spent a year tending the wounded. Now in his mid-fifties, Major Fraser is biding his time at the hospital in Paris, going about his daily duties as the Army slowly and steadily goes about shipping its soldiers home for demobilization.)

The reader first encounters Fraser on the streets of Paris in December 1918 as the city celebrates the arrival of President Woodrow Wilson. With the war recently won by the Allies, optimism is boiling over, for Wilson is widely regarded by the people as the 'indispensable man' who can bring about a just and lasting peace. But what is not widely known is that Wilson in not as well as his outward robustness would suggest. He suffers from fatigue, a twitching eye suggestive of a possible neurological disorder, and lifelong digestive issues. "As an expert on the Spanish influenza [which raged through the world during 1918 and into 1919, killing millions], Fraser is... called in by the president's own doctor on how best to avoid the deadly disease." He sets himself to learning as much as possible about Wilson's overall condition.

In addition to Fraser, someone from his distant past in Ohio makes an appearance: Speed Cook. Cook is a big, powerfully-built Black man who has weathered the storms of life. A former ballplayer and advocate for Negro rights, he manages to book passage aboard an oceangoing vessel as a seaman and, upon arrival in France, jumps ship. His mission is to find his son Joshua, a combat veteran of the 93rd Infantry Division (Negro) wrongly accused of desertion. Cook chances upon Fraser and both men renew their acquaintance. It is a remarkable relationship, given the overt Jim Crow racism that saturated American society at that time. Fraser, after hearing Cook's story, agrees to help.

Fraser prevails upon Allen Dulles, a recent acquaintance, to help him secure Joshua's release. Dulles, a charming, urbane 20-something, is part of the diplomatic corps and a close aide of Wilson. More than that, he is also a spy and, as a price for securing Joshua's release, Dulles has plans to use him as a way of getting closer to Wilson (as the proverbial fly-on-the-wall) -- through serving as the president's valet. For, as Wilson extends his stay in Paris to play a direct role in the shaping of the peace treaty, problems arise owing to differing agendas from Clemenceau and Lloyd George (and some of the other Allied leaders at the conference) on what form the peace should take. In fact, negotiations begin to unravel and Wilson's slowly mounting health problems compound the situation. Allen Dulles is shown to have his own agenda in which Fraser and Joshua find themselves ensnared. Indeed, "at stake is not only Joshua Cook's freedom, but the fragile treaty that may be the only way to stop Europe from plunging into another brutal war."

As a thriller, "The Wilson Deception" is a slow-burner and a pleasure to read. Plus, the general reader gets to learn something about what the 1919 Paris Peace Conference was like on a human level.