The Reluctant Assassin
When an unidentified mummy discovered in a long-abandoned Texas barn is examined, a diary is found embedded in its chest cavity—a diary purportedly written by none other than John Wilkes Booth. The story is told through this diary as it attempts to set the record straight, to unveil the “real story” of the Lincoln assassination and chronicle Booth’s adventures after someone else was killed by federal soldiers in that Virginia barn.
In this farcical tale, a globetrotting Booth manages to meet just about every contemporary of note. He sails with Samuel Clemens, poses as an Indian guide for General Custer at Little Big Horn, rubs elbows with Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, challenges Annie Oakley to shooting contests, and is psychoanalyzed by Sigmund Freud, just to name a few. Though Booth survival theories are plentiful and have all the makings of good plot fodder, Darby fails to deliver with this melodramatic tale. Like an out-of-control fraternity pledge, an insufferable Booth spends his time in a seemingly endless romp of boozing and womanizing. The prose is clumsy, the novel’s humor falls flat, and the “mystery” element is unfinished; the questions raised at the beginning of the book are never definitively answered. Darby’s Booth is strongly reminiscent of a bad blind date—one endures him because one must, and though he does occasionally say something interesting, this in no way makes up for the fact that he’s an overblown, pompous ass whose company is to be avoided like the plague. By the end, one thinks only of all the things that could have been done with those lost hours.