Historical fiction that explores a young journalist’s quest to understand the link between his father and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Johnson’s novel follows John Stanton—the fictional son of Edwin Stanton, former secretary of war under Abraham Lincoln—who is a young journalist working at the New York Tribune in 1904. Stanton pitches a story about Tom Candy, a pioneer of the American cattle trade, to his boss, Editor-in-Chief T. Burton Blackwood. Stanton hopes to investigate rumors he has heard linking his father to Candy that he believes may reveal the truth about conspiracies that also connect his father to Lincoln’s assassination. Blackwood, however, isn’t interested in running the story in his paper. Stanton quits and launches his own investigation. Johnson ably interweaves three narratives—Stanton’s search for Candy in 1904; Candy’s cattle drive across America starting in 1849; and Edwin Stanton’s serving in Lincoln’s cabinet starting in 1862. The novel is well-written, with excellent details that create a sharp picture of each time period and location: “Still, work animals were the main mode of transportation. More than a hundred thousand horses and mules lived among the million human souls in Manhattan and the outer boroughs, and the evidence was everywhere: Piles of manure littered the streets, infested with flies and making the air very unpleasant to breathe. Add to that the scents of urine, harness oil, and hay constantly wafting from the livery stables on every other block, and any inhalation at all could be downright nauseating.” Johnson maintains suspense throughout, and the story is always engaging, despite offering a rather improbable theory about the plot to assassinate Lincoln and the way Edwin Stanton was entangled in that plot.
A well-crafted book that weaves together historical facts and fiction to explore interesting but far-fetched conspiracies behind Lincoln’s assassination.