Cable-news talking head O’Reilly (Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama, 2010, etc.) and historian Dugard (To Be a Runner, 2011, etc.) serve up a sensational, true-crime account of one of the most shocking murders in American history.
In this fast-paced narrative history, the authors recount the weeks leading up to and immediately following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. They pick up the historical thread in the waning moments of the Civil War, as two bedraggled armies attempted to outmaneuver and outlast one another. A reflective and anxious Lincoln was near the battlefront, conferring with General Grant and waiting for the fall of Richmond that would signal the last phase of the war. Meanwhile, a disgruntled Confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, traveled around Washington, D.C., and its environs fomenting unrest among his co-conspirators. In response to the fall of the Confederacy, Booth transformed the group’s longstanding kidnapping plan into a vengeful and flamboyant plot to assassinate Lincoln and several key Cabinet members. The authors profess to be writing history that reads like a thriller, and their account of Lincoln’s assassination makes ample use of tricks like cliffhanger endings, hypothetical psychological insights and fictional dialogue. Yet such narrative propulsions seem hardly necessary when chronicling the rapid-fire succession of major events that occurred during those fateful weeks: several of the bloodiest battles of an already brutal war, the surrender of the Confederacy, tumultuous celebrations in the North and the Good Friday assassination of a leader who was both beloved and despised. This moment in history is already dramatic, thrilling and shocking; applying the “thriller” motif delivers on the subtitle’s description of a “shocking assassination” but fails to elucidate how the authors believe this event “changed America forever.”
An entertaining tale that neither adds to the vast bulk of Lincoln scholarship nor challenges the established theories of Booth's plot and the subsequent trial of the conspirators. Readers seeking a consequential thriller-like portrayal of the assassination should turn to James L. Swanson’s Manhunt (2005).