A lovesick storekeeper and a newly minted Illinois lawyer pool their talents in a murder case.
In 1837, the new state capitol building in Springfield is only a cornerstone, and housing is in such short supply that Joshua Speed reluctantly agrees to share not just the room over his store, but also his bed with a newcomer to town. Former flatboat pilot/surveyor/postmaster/storekeeper Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as a lawyer about half an hour before he meets Speed, who, like Lincoln, is Kentucky-born but, unlike him, is a wealthy plantation-owning judge’s son who decided to go into business instead of the law. As Lincoln takes on his first major client, Dr. Allan Patterson, in a real estate case, the 22-year-old Joshua still mourns the end of his relationship with Rebecca Harriman, an older widow who owns a store in a small frontier settlement. She broke off the affair because, despite their discretion, she was afraid for her reputation. She has even more to fear after she rescues her niece and nephew, Lilly and Jesse Walker, from a grim poorhouse. She’s overheard arguing with Lilly, who’s found with a knife in her neck in Rebecca’s hay barn, a knife whose twin is hidden on the premises. Then Jesse disappears, and an even more shocking turn puts Dr. Patterson in the defendant’s seat for murder. Joshua and his feisty sister try to help Lincoln make a case against other possible suspects—a German traveler, for instance, or Patterson’s adversary in the land speculation case, the doctor's former brother-in-law, who’s still holding a grudge because his sister died mysteriously years ago. Desperation forces Lincoln to propose an even bolder defense strategy that turns out to be unexpectedly relevant.
Putnam combines the historical fact of a lifelong friendship with lively fiction in a debut set on the edge of the American frontier.