Monday, September 18, 2023

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer

 Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer
(2006) by James L. Swanson

Synopsis (from the book): The murder of Abraham Lincoln set off the greatest manhunt in American history--the pursuit and capture of John Wilkes Booth. From April 14 to April 26, 1865, the assassin led Union cavalry and detectives on a wild twelve-day chase through the streets of Washington D. C., across the swamps of Maryland, and into the forests of Virginian, while the nation, still reeling from the just-ended Civil War watched in horror and sadness. 

At the very center of the story is John Wilkes Booth, America's notorious villain. A Confederate sympathizer and a member of a celebrated acting family, booth  threw away his fame and wealth for a chance to avenge the South's defeat. For almost two weeks, he confounded the manhunters, slipping away from their every move and denying them the justice they sought.

Based on rare archival materials, obscure trial transcripts, and Lincoln's own blood relics. Manhnt is a fully documented work and a fascinating tale of murder, intrigue, and betrayal. A gripping hour-by-hour account told through the eyes of the hunted and the hunters, this is history as you've never read it before.

The primary difficulty I have with this book is the word "Chase" in the title (and "gripping" in the synopsis above). The beginning of book, which details the lead-up to the assassination and the assassination itself, is riveting--even though anyone who knows much of anything about American history knows that Booth successfully carried out his plan to murder President Lincoln. And the end of the book is just as interesting with Booth pinned down in the barn and waiting for the final outcome. The problem....the "chase" that takes place during the remainder of the book. There really isn't any chasing going on here and there's not much that's gripping about the manhunt. Booth holes up in a pine forest for days with searchers ambling by. He and his conspirator hear search parties go by and none of them seem to be in a hurry. Things don't get interesting until the final chapter or so. We really didn't need the nitty-gritty detail about Booth's time in the woods. It would have been more in line with the title of the book if we'd followed more closely in the footsteps of the men on his trail instead of spending so much time cozied up to a president's murderer.

The book is well-researched and taught me (or reminded me of) some things about the assassination plot that I either didn't know or didn't remember. I had forgotten that the plan included the deaths of Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward--though neither attempt succeeded. And it was interesting to learn about those who joined Booth in the plot or who aided and abetted him during his escape. If the actual chase part of the narrative had been as "gripping" as advertised, then I would have given a full four stars. As it is: ★★ and 1/2

First line: It looked like a bad day for photographers.

Last line: Today, almost a century and a half since the great chase for Lincoln's killer began, its blued steel needle still dances on its spindle, still pointing the way South.


Deaths = 6 (two shot; four hanged)

No comments: