Serial novel: “The Plot to Kill Susan B. Anthony”

Editor’s note: Bill Fleeman, a Cassadaga resident, is sharing with the OBSERVER his novel. Each week, the Sunday OBSERVER will be running a portion of the novel. This is an introduction to the book.


“it was reported recently in the Press that I am a Godless woman, because I do not get down on my knees to prayYet I do pray. As a Suffragist and worker for Equal Rights, every day of my life I pray with my work!” Susan B. Anthony

“Susan B. Anthony must die,” the letter says.

The year is 1891, a time of tremendous social unrest. Anarchists were attempting to force change by overthrowing governments around the world. The Civil War was long over, and slavery was outlawed, and yet the racism and social conditions that made slavery possible still existed. The Eugenics movement, which foreshadowed Adolf Hitler’s “Master Plan,” advocated the forced sterilization, or even euthanasia of those deemed to be degenerate” or “unfit” while, in contrast, the Comstock obscenity laws made it illegal to distribute information on birth control.

In the United States the Suffragettes were campaigning for equal treatment of women, in particular the right of women to vote. One elderly Quaker woman, Susan B. Anthony, had become one of the movement’s most ardent spokespersons.

In the midst of this turmoil, it is discovered that there is a plot in the works to kill the most visible face of the suffragette movement, Susan B. Anthony. Having been threatened in the past, she shrugs off the threat, so a close friend secretly hires two very unlikely private investigators to uncover the plot and prevent the assassination. Millicent Davies, the narrator, is part white, part African and her partner, former Pinkerton agent Art MacDuff, is a mixed-blood Cherokee Indian. MacDuff has little formal education, but is an expert in criminal psychology, and quotes Shakespeare by heart. Thanks to Millicent’s makeup expertise both investigators pass for white in most circles.

As Anthony embarks on a speaking tour of New York state, the chase is on to discover who is behind the plot and prevent it. Death threats, glutted with racist invective, greet the detectives at every stop. Filled with historically accurate details, the action begins in New York City and builds up to a climax in the Spiritualist community of Lily Dale.

William Fleeman is the author of several nonfiction books. This is his first novel.