James L. Swanson’s book, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer, has been at the top of the best-seller lists for a long time, but I hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. I was thrilled to hear that he’d recently published a young adult version called Chasing Lincoln’s Killer.
“This story is true. All the characters are real and were alive during the great manhunt of April 1865. Their words are authentic and come from original sources: letters, manuscripts, trial transcripts, newspapers, government reports, pamphlets, books, and other documents. What happened in Washington, D.C., that spring, and in the swamps and rivers, forests and fields of Maryland and Virginia during the next twelve days, is far too incredible to have been made up.”
Swanson begins his tale with these words, and his book lives up to them. A true historical account of the assassination of President Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth in 1865, Swanson’s book reads like a fast-paced suspense novel. Although I learned a lot about Lincoln, Booth, and the Civil War as I read this book, it is about as far from a textbook as you can get.
The story begins on March 4, 1865, at President Lincoln’s inaugural address, after he was re-elected President of the United States in the midst of the Civil War. Readers get an inside view into the mind of John Wilkes Booth, as he plots revenge on Lincoln for causing the downfall of his beloved Confederacy. The events leading up to the assassination unfold at a fast pace. It is amazing, from our view of security in the modern world, to think that Booth simply walked into the theater, shot the President of the United States, and escaped moments later.
From then on, the book follows two tracks: Booth and his accomplices as they flee from the city and head south, and the people investigating the murder and following their trail. The story is as exciting and suspenseful as any good thriller. Interspersed among the story are real photos, drawings, and documents from that time.
I was fascinated by this book. I learned a lot, but I also enjoyed a good story along the way. You can’t make this stuff up – sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.
(This book is recommended for middle-grade readers through adults).