BOOTH by David Robertson


Email this review


 A first novel about the conspiracy to kill Abraham Lincoln, riveting in its depiction of time and place but less convincing in its characterizations. Robertson, the author of a well-received biography of the longtime political powerbroker James F. Byrnes (Sly and Able, 1994), knows how to do research. His portrait of wartime Washington in the last days of the Civil War is filled with vivid particulars, and his rendering of the hustling spirit of the town, with almost everyone angling for money or power, seems just right. The narrator who describes the scene, though, is more problematic. John Surratt is an old man as the novel begins, looking back over the awful events of his youth, at their heart his involvement with the charming, manic actor John Wilkes Booth. Surratt was in fact the only figure believed to be closely associated with Booth's plot who was never imprisoned. Fleeing the country after Lincoln's death, he was caught and returned in 1867 but found not guilty after a turbulent trial, while his own mother was among those tried and executed in the aftermath of Booth's crime. What's jarring here is that Robertson, who starts out seeming to want to plumb the plot and Booth's enigmatic character, ends up devoting much of his story to a defense of Surratt's character, presenting him as an innocent manipulated by a variety of cunning figures, including not only Booth but Sarah Slater, a young actress who may have been a Confederate spy, and the self-styled super-spy for the Union, Allan Pinkerton. Lost in all of this motion is any real sense of Booth's character or motives, or any feeling for the outcasts who became his followers. The backgrounds against which the action is played out are grimly realistic, many individual scenes have power and originality, but the characters themselves remain flat, gaudy, rather melodramatic. Lively, colorful, but finally an uncomfortable mix of fact and fancy. (Illustrated with 12 b&w period photographs)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-385-48706-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Anchor
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1997


NonfictionW.C. HANDY by David Robertson
by David Robertson
NonfictionDENMARK VESEY by David Robertson
by David Robertson
NonfictionSLY AND ABLE by David Robertson
by David Robertson