Saturday, December 11, 2010

Book Review: MANHUNT: THE 12-DAY CHASE FOR LINCOLN'S KILLER by James L. Swanson (William Morrow, 2006)

With MANHUNT, Swanson -- whose follow-up production, BLOODY CRIMES, is also on my bedside table at the moment -- provides a romanticized account of the most notoriously "romantic" of American Presidential assassinations and its aftermath. Part of the intrigue surrounding John Wilkes Booth's dramatic killing of Abraham Lincoln stems from the fact that, barring some bad luck and misjudgments, Booth might very easily have gotten away with his crime. In tracing Booth's long, painful journey from the floorboards of Ford's Theatre to Garrett's Tobacco Barn, where the assassin was cornered and shot, Swanson demonstrates why he did not. Swanson does take sides regarding some of the latest historical research (e.g., he portrays Dr. Samuel Mudd, the man who set Booth's broken leg, as being far more of a knowledgeable accomplice of Booth's than the old historical and pop-culture consensus would have it), but, in most particulars, he approaches the project as a simple story-teller, rather than as an academician with a point to prove. The manuscript could have done with one final proofread -- tenses are sometimes mixed up, and the same telegram is quoted twice in two separate places in the narrative -- and a few more detailed maps of Booth's escape route would have been appreciated. Still, this is an excellent and, at times, hair-raising read.

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