President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated! So says the newspapers, but how did it happen and what was the aftermath of the assassination? Was the murderer apprehended? All these questions are brought to light and cleverly answered by the novel Chasing Lincoln's Killer written by James L. Swanson, the best seller author of “The Manhunt”. In fact this book is a young adult version of the Manhunt. Swanson unfolds a thrilling narrative of John Wilkes Booth plot to assassinate the president of the United States of America followed by captivating 12 days man hunt for him. This takes the reader through Washington D.C, into Maryland swamps and past Virginia’s forests. Swanson turns old and dusty manuscripts and interviews with the perpetrators into a wonderful and interesting book with an interesting plot.
It came as a pleasant surprise to John Wilkes Booth on finding out that Abraham Lincoln would be at a play to take place on April 14, 1865 at Ford’s theatre. Booth new his way very well around the theatre and had unlimited access to it. He saw this as an opportunity to kill the very man he hated most. He devised a quick plan which was to kill the president, the vice president Johnson and the secretary of state Seward. Booth together with his conspirators came up with a nice plot which saw President Lincoln dead (Swanson 2009). The author resurrects the murder scene of the president Lincoln at the Ford theatre presenting a genius dramatic encounter of how Boot killed the president and failed to kill the Secretary of state. In addition, he shows in details how Booth cunningly talks his way past a guard at Maryland Bridge. Throughout this book, Swanson brings out the theme of division facing the nation following the war. Also it indicates the disorder within the government followed by the unforeseen challenges.
The author cleverly employs flashback to relieve the past. All the characters in the 1865 manhunt are real within their exact words retrieved from newspapers, trial manuscripts, government reports and other vital documents. Use of photographs is employed through the novel to give a detailed and a long lasting image of the story. This includes photographs of the main characters from back in 1865 giving the reader a feeling of being present that day. Apart from photographs, the use of a detailed occurrence of events is used to give the reader a mental picture of what was happening. For instance: “Booth’s insatiable thirst for blood, the bullet “ripping through [Lincoln’s] chestnut-colored hair” and coming to rest behind the President’s right eye amidst “wet brain matter,” the smoke from the shot still hanging in the air” (Swanson 2009). The story is a historical prerogative that gives the details in an interesting way to readers. To achieve this, author maneuvers skillfully from one event to another. This style of writing is quite helpful especially to readers with a short memory span.
Chasing Lincoln's Killer is a masterpiece detailing the events leading to the death of President Lincoln and the ensuing manhunt to capture the killer, Booth, together with his conspirators who helped him plan and provided him with weapons and shelter. In addition, Swanson sheds more light on Abraham Lincoln as a father, husband and everyone’s friend. He also illustrates how Lincoln death affected his family and friends. The story is nonfictional and artistically written in an interesting and brilliant way.
James L. Swanson. “Chasing Lincoln's Killer” .Scholastic Incorporated: New York, (2009).