Kid’s Author Sleuths Out 19th Century Female Detective in New Book
A little sleuthing of her own inspired children’s book author Kate Hannigan to write a book on America’s first female detective.
I was researching for another book when I came across this nugget … about Allan Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency and how on Aug. 22, 1856, a woman walked in, and he assumed she was there for a secretary position. She talked her way into having him hire her. That’s how Kate Warne began her career. And I thought, ‘Why do I not know who this woman is?’ So I jumped on it.
Hannigan turned that nugget of inspiration into a new historical-fiction book for middle-grade students, “The Detective’s Assistant” (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), which was released in April. It follows the story of Warne and her fictional 11-year-old niece, Nell. Hannigan weaves in actual cases Warne worked during her life, and the story follows historical events leading up to President Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration in 1861.
Pinkerton’s Chicago-based agency rose to fame when it foiled a would-be assassination of Lincoln, known as the Baltimore Plot. What’s lesser known is that Warne was instrumental in getting Lincoln to safety, Hannigan said. Warne lived in Chicago and worked as a detective until her death at 38 in 1868 of pneumonia. She is buried in Graceland Cemetery in the Pinkerton family plot (under the name Kate Warn), along with several other Pinkerton employees.
A former copy editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, Hannigan left her newspaper job when she and her husband, Norm Issa, and daughter, moved to Chicago in 2001. She wanted to transition from journalism and try creative writing. Meanwhile, she had two more children, Nolan and Gabriel, now 12 and 10, respectively.
Hannigan also is the author of a three-part children’s book series, “Cupcake Cousins.” The first book was published in 2014, with the second and third books in the series set for release later this year and next year.