Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson
Review by Shannon Siebert
This book reads like a thriller but it’s a nonfiction historically accurate book detailing the day Abraham Lincoln was shot at the Ford Theater by the notorious actor James Wilkes Booth and the 12 day frantic search for he and his accomplices. The Bluestem Book Club I belong to reads a young adult book every spring chosen by Suzanne Ratzlaff and this is one of the most compelling ones we’ve read.
I read that the author was encouraged by his own two children to rewrite his best selling 2006 book “Manhunt” into a version for young adults. It is generously filled with reproductions of actual newspaper articles, flyers, maps and photographs. The graphics make it easier to understand and keep track of the complicated events surrounding not only the killing of Lincoln but the failed assassination attempt of Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward by his accomplices.
You won’t be able to put this book down as the author makes it seem real following the convoluted escape of J.W. Booth out of Washington D.C. that night into Maryland and how he managed to dodge being captured over the next 12 days. The author’s careful research is evident in the many intriguing details of the scene surrounding not only the dying president but J.W. Booth’s personality and the ensuing chase.
Fortunately, it was Secretary of War Edward M. Stanton who took charge of the horrific turmoil after Lincoln’s assassination. He had served brilliantly as Lincoln’s right hand man during the war and after assessing and securing the situation he set the wheels in motion to chase down the killers.
In the meantime, Booth and one of his accomplices David Herold, who also made it out of Washington D.C., met up and arrived at their predetermined “safe house” in Surrattsville, Maryland. After a quick stop to procure more ammunition they raced on to stay ahead of the soldiers sent by Stanton who were soon to be hot on their trail. The next 11 days are an intriguing and incredible story of their stops and starts as they try to outmanuever their pursuers.
Just when you think everything has been written covering Abraham Lincoln, a book like this is surprising with its in-depth look at the assassination plot and 12 day chase. An interesting side note about the author was that he was born on Lincoln’s birthday, February 12. He received an intriguing gift on his tenth birthday from an aunt that was an engraving of Booth’s Deringer pistol with an attached newspaper story that was cut off without an ending to the story. “I knew I had to find the rest of the story,” said Swanson and thus began his lifelong fascination with Abraham Lincoln. It has perked my interest and I plan to read the author’s adult version, “Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase For Lincoln’s Killer,” next.
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