A House Divided (Lincoln and Speed Mysteries)

Written by Jonathan F. Putnam
Review by Tom Vallar

The winter of 1840 brings a horrific ice storm, a man’s disappearance, and Mary Todd’s arrival in Springfield, Illinois. Con man Flynn Fisher is in cahoots with the three Trailor brothers to skim money from the Illinois canal project; William, the eldest, accuses Henry and Archibald of murder because Fisher reneges on paying. Since shopkeeper Joshua Speed credits Archibald with saving him from freezing in the ice storm, he convinces his best friend, lawyer Abraham Lincoln, to defend the illiterate brother at a murder trial that’s missing one key item – the body.

Springfield society is entranced by the beautiful and outspoken sister-in-law of its most prominent citizen. Speed and Lincoln are right there in line to woo Miss Todd. When the investigation takes Speed further afield, and his attentions are arrested by a red-haired Irish beauty, Mary must decide between Lincoln and his long-time (and future) rival Stephen A. Douglas as her beau.

This fourth entry in the Lincoln and Speed Mysteries is Putnam’s finest. Character development is first-rate, as even minor players come to life; you don’t expect a lawyer to be proficient at writing action scenes, but these come at the reader with punch, showing both Lincoln and Speed at their best. Although his publicist wants us to believe the “house divided” in the title is Speed versus Lincoln in the battle for Mary’s hand, the Trailor family’s dysfunction pervades the entire plot and is even more divisive.