THE CURSE OF CAIN by J. Mark Powell


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Oliver Stone, meet Stonewall Jackson: a by-the-numbers historical thriller turning on a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.

CNN writers Powell and Meagher cheerfully admit that the evidence gives no reason to think that there was any gunman at the Ford Theater save John Wilkes Booth. Still, they don’t even give the infamous actor the chance to shout “Sic semper tyrannis!”; instead, Booth plays second fiddle to a hired assassin named Basil Tarleton, with echoes of Revolutionary War villain Banastre doubtless intended. So evil is Tarleton that, when we first meet him, he is busy murdering a hooker whose breasts have lately jiggled just for him. Though evil may be too strong a word; Tarleton is simply without emotional affect, a man for whom killing is just a business. Indeed, he tells his soon-to-be-unwilling employer, a Confederate politico, “Whether it’s a wayward wife, a crooked partner, or someone the client just plain doesn’t like, it’s all the same to me.” The apolitical Tarleton insinuates himself in the company of others, including Booth, who have definite reasons to want to kill Lincoln apart from good old Yankee greenbacks. He also finds himself pursued by a noble Virginian named Jack Tanner, who has warned Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Braxton Bragg and other assembled heroes of the Secession that some rogue agent within the government has put the hit out on Honest Abe, a dastardly plot that, if successful, is sure to put a black mark on the otherwise spotless Confederate record. Other breasts heave, bullets fly and knives flash, tempers flare, and new villains emerge as Tarleton moves closer to his target; but mostly the players just talk back and forth to each other, elaborate introductions and toasts to the Noble Cause included, in the regionally neutral, not very interesting dialect of, say, a CNN announcer. The story ends predictably, with hero and heroine basking in success and bad guys put away; there are no surprises here for anyone but Lincoln.

An intriguing premise, inexpertly handled.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-765-31088-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Forge
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2005