Disturbing questions arise after the tragic death of Abraham Lincoln’s beloved son, Willie. Could it possibly be…?
February, 1862. Twenty-three-year-old John Hay, President Lincoln’s assistant private secretary, enters a grand reception in the White House’s East Room. He’s delighted to flirt with Kate Chase, the daughter of duplicitous Sen. Salmon Chase. Melancholy simmers beneath the surface of the event, however; young Willie Lincoln has fallen ill after riding his pony. After a few tense days, the boy slips into a coma and dies. Lincoln is distraught. Hay opens a curious verse message to the president that menacingly intimates that Willie’s death was murder. The steady stream of vituperation that crosses Lincoln’s desk prompts Hay not to reject the idea out of hand. Surreptitiously, he tries to reconstruct the hours before Willie was taken ill, taking the reader through many of the minor figures in the day-to-day operations of the Lincoln presidency. The brisk Dr. Stone spares only a minute for a conference with Hay, condescendingly if not conclusively declaring typhoid fever the cause of Willie’s death. Allan Pinkerton and his detectives, White House groundskeeper John Watt, doorkeeper Thomas Stackpole, Mary Todd Lincoln confidante and aide Elizabeth Keckly, and the first family themselves figure prominently in Hay’s probe.
The book is billed as “A John Hay Mystery,” indicating that there may be more to come. Solomon (Where They Ain’t, 2000, etc.) depicts the scores of people around Lincoln with vigor and authority. His middling mystery is a passable MacGuffin for his rich historical offering.