A suspicious accident that almost gets the president killed prompts a Cabinet member to turn sleuth.
In early September 1902, a runaway trolley car collides with the carriage of Theodore Roosevelt, who’s campaigning in Massachusetts. Secret Service bodyguard Bill Craig is crushed to death. Most everyone considers this a freak accident, but the president, who looked into the eyes of the trolley’s motorman, is convinced that the goal was his death. Solomon (The Murder of Willie Lincoln, 2017, etc.) assigns the telling of the tale to Roosevelt’s secretary of state, John Hay, who feels bound to investigate. The police chief, at first evasive, ultimately admits that his department has investigated the French Canadian motorman, Euclid Madden. Because he and the conductor have been indicted, Madden’s lawyer will not allow him to speak further until the inquest. Craig’s funeral further inspires a sense of duty in Hay, who intermittently dives into The Hound of the Baskervilles for investigative inspiration. After Madden surprises everyone by pleading guilty to manslaughter, Hay questions him, and something doesn’t seem right. Though plagued with self-doubt, Hay determines to probe further. As he proceeds, the president himself becomes his sounding board along with Clara, Hay’s outspoken wife. Emancipated journalist Nellie Bly, Roosevelt’s close friend and adviser George Cortelyou, and billionaire J.P. Morgan all figure prominently in his investigation, Bly even playing Watson to Hay’s Holmes. It takes a second murder to bring the entire affair into sharp focus.
Historian Solomon’s meticulous details and the real-life figures woven into the narrative make it both informative and entertaining.