A fictionalized account, inspired by original documents, of the last criminal trial litigated by Abraham Lincoln.
In 1859, Lincoln’s ascent to the White House is only a year away. He maintains a law practice in Springfield, Ill., where he serves as counsel for Peachy Quinn Harrison, a woman accused of murder. Perroni’s first novel is inspired by the only known transcript of any of Lincoln’s real-life trials—a true rarity among mid-19th-century court cases. The first chapter reimagines the moment of the document’s discovery and sets the stage for the legacy the trial will leave behind. The book then breaks into three main sections: the trial, told primarily through the transcript itself (“tailored to fit the story line,” according to Perroni) and a series of flashbacks to the alleged crime; a fictional Civil War battlefield narrative; and the story of the fledgling law career of the defendant’s sister, Virginia, an invented character. The author makes the most of his material, a relatively unremarkable case—it’s no Helter Skelter or In Cold Blood—in which Lincoln presented a fairly straightforward defense. The plot elements that really sing are those that Perroni created, including an effort to exclude an alluring witness and Virginia’s drive to emulate Lincoln when few women were members of the bar. (The Civil War interlude, however, is less successful and seems only tangentially related to the rest of the novel.) Perroni writes capably, despite some anachronistic dialogue (“ ‘Well, it’s kind of complicated…’ Lincoln began to say.”) and behavior (including a lot of hugging). The characters are engaging enough to keep readers rushing along to find out what happens, and a final author’s note answers questions about the characters’ fates and where fiction and history intersect.
An inventive take on real-life events, and a worthwhile read for Lincoln enthusiasts, law scholars and true-crime fans.