As a lawyer, David O. Stewart argued before juries, judges, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Now, he writes history and historical novels, looking for the people behind the stories, and for the stories that have been missed or misunderstood. In his novel The Paris Deception, he brings to light the aftermath of World War One, the people involved, the wheeling and dealing that set in motion circumstances that continue to affect us today.
History can help us formulate useful questions and prompt warnings about our own times. This is the case with The Paris Deception. Through the characters of President Woodrow Wilson, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, and British Prime Minister David Lloyd George we gain insight on the conflicting values of countries, on the complexities of building peace, and on the weight of great responsibility. We see the United States in its ascendancy, Britain as its empire begins to fade, and the total collapse of Germany.
There have been many WWI novels: stories of families torn apart, the chaos and horror of war, the ineptitude of leaders, the longing for home; stories of intense camaraderie, unfaltering duty and heroism; stories of tragic loss and lives forever and devastatingly altered.
But what do we know about the peace process that followed WWI? Which leaders led the way or blocked the path to some sort of justice? Which borders changed and why? Which new countries were created? Which special interests were served? How did the conditions of peace sow the seeds for WWII and beyond? The Paris Deception is this novel.
I had the privilege of writing a foreword to The Paris Deception, which relaunched yesterday and asked David a few questions about the story.
What or who was the inspiration for your main characters James Fraser and Speed Cook?
Both characters were drawn from history, though they are only dimly recorded. The first book in this series – The Lincoln Deception – begins with a Delphic deathbed disclosure by former Congressman John Bingham of Cadiz, Ohio, to his doctor, concerning the John Wilkes Booth Conspiracy. So I decided that the small-town doctor, James Fraser, who heard that deathbed disclosure would become obsessed with it, and become one of my protagonists. I wanted him to have a co-investigator, which allows different personalities, and different talents, to be applied to the case. I discovered a fascinating contemporary figure, Moses Fleetwood Walker, who came from nearby Steubenville and was the last African-American to play in organized baseball between the 1880s and Jackie Robinson. Walker (the real person) was an aggressive “race man” who challenged the triumphant Jim Crow culture of the era. I thought he would make a fascinating foil and complement, rechristened Speed Cook, to my small-town doctor (James Fraser).
In light of today’s momentous support for Black Lives Matter, what aspects of the treatment of black Americans during World War One stand out for you?
I had a number of opportunities for the story to highlight the terrible wrongs inflicted on African-Americans then – and still today. Speed Cook’s son serves in an all-black unit known as the Harlem Hellfighters, but all the officers had to be white, and the American general staff didn’t want to use these soldiers at all. Consequently, that unit ended up fighting under French army command, and earning high distinction. Cook’s son, Joshua, also falls victim to a racist prosecution for desertion, while Cook himself is working with W.E.B. Du Bois, who came to Paris during the 1919 peace conference to be part of the Pan-African Congress. Finally, I was able to portray President Woodrow Wilson’s racism in private settings. Wilson grew up in Georgia after the Civil War and had the racist attitudes of that time and place, right down to the “darky” jokes he liked to tell.
Weaving real and fictional characters is a challenge for historical fiction authors. Why did you choose the real characters you did choose and how did you preserve authenticity?
The Paris Peace Conference offers a smorgasbord of fabulous historical characters. To give a grounding in the swirling negotiations of the peace conference, the story features cameo appearances by W.E.B. Du Bois, Winston Churchill, Chaim Weizmann, and Mark Sykes (of the hideous Sykes-Picot Treaty that whacked up the Middle East between France and Britain). More fully integrated into the story are marvelous characters like T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) and French Premier Georges Clemenceau (one of my favorites). Three central characters for the story are President Wilson and two of his aides, the brothers Allen Dulles (future head of the CIA and a spy during World War I) and John Foster Dulles (future Secretary of State and an important figure in the American delegation). In pursuit of authenticity, I studied contemporary photographs of each, listened to voice recordings if they were available, and read contemporary accounts of the impressions they made on people.
Through the fictional characters of The Paris Deception, we also experience the war in flashback, understand the devastation brought about by the Spanish Flu, and feel the agony of having a son go off to war. Beyond being a wonderful story, The Paris Deception is history that is highly relevant for today.
The Paris Deception by David O. Stewart ~~ In the wake of The Great War, the city of Paris unites in jubilant celebration at the arrival of United States President, Woodrow Wilson. But amidst the prospect of peace, Parisians are dying as the Spanish influenza reaches epidemic proportions.
An expert on the deadly illnesses, Dr. Major Jamie Fraser, is called in to advise the president’s own doctor on how best to avoid the deadly disease and discovers, despite Wilson’s robust appearance, the man is frailer than most realize.
While trying to determine the source of Wilson’s maladies, Fraser encounters a man he has not seen for nearly twenty years: Speed Cook–ex-professional ball player and now advocate for Negro rights. Cook is also desperate to save his son Joshua, an army sergeant wrongly accused of desertion.
Pledging to help Cook, Fraser approaches Allen Dulles, an American spy, who is also Wilson’s close aide.
Soon Cook and Fraser’s quest intersects with dramatic events when the French premier, Georges Clemenceau, narrowly survives an assassination attempt, and the Paris Peace Convergence begins to unravel.
When the precarious German government balks at the grim terms of the peace treaty, Cook and Fraser discover that to save Joshua, they must find a way to preserve the fragile treaty, which may be the only barrier standing between Europe and another brutal war.
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.