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Monday, June 13, 2016

What AMC's TURN Can Teach an Author

I admit I am addicted to AMC's Series: TURN: Washington's Spies, based on the true story of America's first spy ring and the book, Washington's Spies by Alexander Rose.

As a writer, I often look beyond the surface to discover the reasons I am drawn into a story. TURN takes place against the backdrop of the American Revolutionary War. Since we all know how it turned out, there's no suspense - or is there?

It turns out there is. And it also turns out there's more to the story than what we've been taught in school.

But even more so, I find I am drawn to the characters - and this is where the real genius exists. (All pictures below are from AMC's television series, TURN.)

Washington's Spies is the true story of a group of childhood friends who form a spy ring. All civilians with a military contact, they risk their lives to journey behind enemy lines, leaving documents and information that can turn the tide of war in their favor.

Abe Woodhull becomes the ringleader. His story is a classic tale of a son who can never live up to the ideals of the father. In this case, his father is Magistrate Richard Woodhull, whose home has been turned into the headquarters for Major Hewlett, who governs Setauket, Long Island.

Abe was engaged to Anna Strong but his older brother was killed during the war and he was pressured to marry the woman his brother had arranged to wed. Anna subsequently married Selah Strong. (Anna and Abe shown here.)

I liked Abe from the beginning and could feel his angst as he was caught between seeing the woman he truly loved and bedding the woman he was compelled to marry. However, as time marched on and the twists and turns began to unfold, I found myself appalled at the tactics Abe used to further his cause.

I disliked Abe's wife Mary from the beginning and completely reviled her when she burned the code book she found and then subsequently burned down their house. But as she was pulled into the shadows of the spy ring, she became resourceful, faithful and loyal to her husband - if not to the cause.

Two surprises for me were how I feel about two British loyalists: Major Hewlett was clearly the enemy as the series began so I hated him as any American would... Only there is more to Major Hewlett than meets the eye. We discover he was not a career soldier. In fact, he wanted to become an astronomer. What's more, he is a decent man and a fair-minded man placed into an impossible predicament of winning over the hearts and minds of a colony half a world away from England.

And when Anna Strong's husband becomes a prisoner of war and then a soldier who can't venture into British-controlled Setauket, Major Hewlett becomes attracted to her... And Anna clearly becomes attracted to him. I found myself rooting for their marriage, hoping they would leave war-torn America for England and Hewlett's life as an astronomer. (Major Hewlett and Anna Strong shown.)

Then Major John Andre enters the picture. Andre is in charge of Britain's spy ring and they are every bit as formidable as the colonial ring. He is cunning, opportunistic, shrewd. And yet there is another side to him. While he is in charge of Philadelphia and is given a black woman, he immediately gives her papers that demonstrates she is free. When she chooses to remain in his employment, he treats her fairly and kindly. When he falls in love with an American socialite, we see a romantic side, gentle, attentive, captivated. And when he must depart for New York, he is despondent and melancholy. I found myself longing for them to be reunited, even though I know it might be too late. [And spoiler alert: if you'd like to know what happens to him, follow this link.] (Andre and Peggy shown here.)

Lest you think I've become a loyalist, there are plenty of villains as well and none more vicious than British Lt. John Simcoe. Simcoe as portrayed in this series is a psychopath who clearly relishes his role as a soldier and his position in Setauket as a license to kill and maim without penalty. Brilliantly portrayed by actor Samuel Roukin, even when he is infatuated with Anna Strong and attempts to display a gentler side, his glassy eyes and high-pitched voice can not hide a sinister tendency toward evil. (Simcoe shown here.) [Follow this link for the real story of John Simcoe.]

I am now hooked on the series (in its third year) because I must know what happens to Major Hewlett and Anna Strong; whether Abe and his father will ever reconcile their differences; whether Major Andre and his lover, Peggy, will reunite before history takes its dramatic turn.

And of course, there are those who will always remain in the forefront of history: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, King George and more.

In a war that raged across early America, the majority of the action takes place in Setauket, Long Island and the surrounding rural countryside, with brief interludes of a young York City and staid Philadelphia. For an author always interested in what keeps readers coming back for more in a series, this is definitely a show to watch - and a book to read.

p.m.terrell is the author of River Passage, the award-winning true story of the ill-fated Donelson river voyage to Fort Nashborough during the height of the Chickamauga Indian Wars; and her most popular book, Songbirds are Free, the true story of the capture of 19-year-old Mary Neely by Shawnee warriors in 1780. Check out her website for more information at