The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan – Review by Brianna DuMont

The Detective’s AssistantHistorical fiction doesn’t get enough love. Sure, it’s not as flashy as science fiction—literally in some cases—and of course, there aren’t any vampire love triangles or undead zombie attacks, but historical fiction has something better. It has truth. The “you can’t even make this stuff up, it’s so crazy” stories draw us into our own forgotten slice of history. The very best historical fiction transports you into a new world, just like science fiction and fantasy. Except the world spun in a historical fiction novel is more real than your grandpa’s teeth.

In Kate Hannigan’s historical fiction novel, The Detective’s Assistant, we fall into the action-packed world of Nell Warne and her vivacious Aunt Kitty in mid-19th century Chicago. (But don’t call Aunt Kitty that to her face. She prefers Kate.) Nell and Kate don’t exactly see eye-to-eye. Nell, recently orphaned, and Aunt Kitty, widowed years ago at the hands of Nell’s own father, are the ultimate odd couple. Fate has thrown them together, but not for long if Aunt Kitty has anything to say about it. And she has plenty. While trying to find Nell a good orphanage to take her in, she’s keeping a secret about her life. It isn’t all pretty dresses and flowers for Aunt Kitty. More like fake disguises, secret codes, and pistols. That’s because she’s the first female detective for a budding new agency you may have heard of: The Pinkerton Detective Agency. Pretty soon, the two are on case after case, traveling all over major U.S. cities and meeting everyone from Pinkerton himself to Abraham Lincoln in their quest to serve justice. Aunt Kitty would still rather see her niece in the Home for the Friendless, but perhaps Nell can change her mind…

Based off of the real Kate Warne, The Detective’s Assistant is exactly the sort of book I would have salivated over as a kid—between the mysteries, ciphers hidden in letters, dastardly plots to foil, and disguises, it’s got something for everyone. A spunky protagonist and her equally spunky antagonist make for the perfect team—if they can get past their history first.

An author’s note at the end of the book enhances all the adventures you’ve just gone through—if you can wait that long to read it. By illuminating the true events depicted in the story and adding even more historical tidbits, it truly makes the experience come alive for anyone interested in early police work, the 19thcentury, or feisty female leads.


Brianna DuMont writes middle grade nonfiction with an edge. It’s the quirky, snubbed, and misunderstood that excites her research fervor. To find the odd and overlooked, she loves to travel in search of great museums and historical sites to visit. When she is at home in Chicago, she is a full-time writer who is quickly becoming best friends with her local librarian. You can visit her at