33) Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, by James L. Swanson
In all honesty, the reason I read this is because it was short (about 4 hours of audiobook) and nonfiction (this is only the third nonfiction book I’ve read this semester), but I really enjoyed it.
Um, I’m not going to even bother with a summary. I think you know what this book is about, more or less (more on that later). (PS: Look at that book cover! I love it.)
I gather that Swanson wrote an adult title, Manhunt, on the same subject a few years before this YA version. I kind of wonder why he then wrote this book, but I haven’t read Manhunt so I can’t really speak to whether or not it’s unsuitable for a teenage reader. It just seems sort of weird, since they seem to cover exactly the same topic, and based on the reviews I’m seeing, it looks like Manhunt also creates a fiction-like narrative to tell the story, so as far as I can tell, the main difference between the titles is length (Manhunt is about twice as long) and possibly language (I have no idea, I’m just guessing).
If, as I suspect, this is the “good parts version,” Swanson knows how to pick them. In a lot of ways, this book really is the bare bones of the story; it’s all action, without going into a lot of the relevant background stuff. That makes it great for a reluctant reader, possibly not so much for a kid who is into Civil War history, though it really is a cool read. All the dialogue in the book is taken from primary source accounts of the assassination and manhunt, which is both an accomplishment for the author, to work that in as dialogue, and such a cool thing for a kid reading the book. Hell, I thought it was super cool.
Will Patton has this great Southern gentleman accent that is just perfect for this book, so it kind of reads like a cross between a really good lecture and fiction.
The one thing is, I thought this book was going to be something else. Like when I read In Cold Blood and I thought it was would what the film Capote was. I thought it was going to be about Capote doing the research and everything, but it was about the criminals. The title, Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, made me expect a story about the Pinkertons or soldiers or lawmen who chased down Booth and company, but that’s not what this book is. (And I wonder if that’s what was taken out of Manhunt to create this book. I would hope Manhunt has more about the manhunt.) Instead, it’s a narrative of Booth’s assassination of Lincoln, Powell’s attempt to assassinate Seward (this is a fascinating part because holy crap I did not know a lot of that story and it is kind of horrifying), Booth’s flight into the countryside, and his eventual discovery and death. It mainly follows Booth, rather than the law, who barely come into the story. It’s still fascinating, because this whole plot was basically thrown together quickly and just everything that could have gone wrong did, but it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.