A fictional reimagining of the ultimate fate of Lincoln’s famous assassin.
Artist and author Conrad (Last Boat to Cadiz, 2003, etc.) is best known for his 1952 novel Matador. But the author’s résumé also includes a stint as secretary to Nobel Prize–winning novelist Sinclair Lewis. In a compelling afterword, Conrad reveals that Lewis sketched out the entire plot of a fictional novel about John Wilkes Booth during a curious monologue in 1947. The pair decided to write the novel, originally titled Thus Ever To Tyrants, together, but their plans went awry. Now Conrad finishes the project, creating a Booth who still succeeds in shooting Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre but who manages to escape. He eventually makes his way to Gen. Robert E. Lee’s camp in Richmond, where Mathew Brady is taking Lee’s portrait. Booth expects to be hailed a hero, and so is startled by Lee’s furious response. “My poor friend, Abraham Lincoln and I had vastly different political ideas, but he was one of the finest men America has ever seen,” Lee shouts. “If indeed you are convinced you are the maniac who killed him, you should be hanged as an example from the nearest tree.” Here, Booth’s revolutionary zeal for the South remains unchanged, but he does realize the enormity of his trespass. Those who helped him are hanged for treason, while others, like Dr. Samuel Mudd, are imprisoned. Booth makes his way to the West, where he settles into a quiet life as John Richard Marlowe, going so far as to marry a Lincoln admirer. It all comes unraveled when journalist Langford Upham tracks the stage actor to his home in Montana, where not even Booth’s remarkable performance can save him from the final reveal.
A superfluous novel, more interesting as a literary artifact.