The Court-Martial of Benedict Arnold by Richard McMahon is a historical novel that depicts what might have happened if Benedict Arnold had been captured and given the opportunity to explain to a panel of his military peers why he planned to help the British during the Revolutionary War. It includes a military trial where Arnold is allowed to offer explanation and context while being represented by a reluctant fictional attorney. By moving from the trial arena to the outside world, the reader also is given insight into the minds of Arnold’s contemporaries.
Genuine letters and documents are used through the book, and the beginning of the book lists a cast of characters. The epilogue tells us what happened to the people and places in this novel – even to the fictional characters (who are clearly identified in the epilogue).
Lovers of historical fiction and courtroom drama are in for a treat in this well researched and well written novel that examines the era of the American Revolutionary War. What if Benedict Arnold had not escaped and had instead been brought to trial? The courtroom developments bring out the best in Arnold while clearly explaining why he changed sides during the war.
MWSA Reviewer: Nancy Kauffman
Benedict Arnold was the most notorious traitor in American history. Entrusted with the defense of West Point by George Washington during the Revolutionary War, he attempted to surrender it to the British. The conspiracy, had it succeeded, would probably have been the death knell for the American cause. Fortunately, his treachery was discovered at the last moment. Warned of the plot’s failure, Arnold just barely evaded capture and escaped to British lines.
But what if Arnold had been captured by the Americans and tried by court-martial for treason? What would his defense have been? Would we have learned what prompted this man, a true hero of the war’s early days, to suddenly turn on his country?
In The Court-Martial of Benedict Arnold, America’s most infamous traitor defends himself before a panel of his peers, claiming that the entire event was an enemy plot to discredit him and thus undermine the American cause. This is also the story of Joshua Thorne, a conflicted officer in the Judge Advocate General Corps, who has been given the task of defending Arnold. Thorne is depressed by the role he is required to play in prosecuting soldiers for offenses caused mainly by the failure of Congress to feed and pay them. He has started to drink heavily, and is beginning to question his loyalty to the quest for America’s independence. His life is further complicated when his defense of Arnold places his love affair with Amelia Martin at risk. Amy, a school mistress and fierce patriot, detests Arnold as a traitor, and is distressed by Thorne’s growing alliance with him.