The Cosgrove Report: Being the Private Inquiry of a Pinkerton Detective into the Death of President Lincoln

Written by G. J. A. O’Toole
Review by Bruce Macbain

Originally published in 1979 and now reissued to coincide with the Lincoln bicentennial, the novel purports to be a manuscript written by one Nicholas Cosgrove, Pinkerton agent. In 1868, Cosgrove is assigned to determine whether John Wilkes Booth escaped from the burning farmhouse in Maryland and still lives. His report, having lain concealed for a century, now falls into the hands of private detective Michael Croft, whose job is to verify and annotate it. Writing in a grandiloquent High Victorian style, Cosgrove tells a tale of switched identities, doctored documents, and bitter feuding within the White House as he pursues the elusive Booth. Historical characters, such as President Andrew Johnson, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Allan Pinkerton, and many others make their appearance to either aid or thwart Cosgrove in his mission. And Cosgrove himself is an ambiguous figure with seemingly no family, friends, or worldly attachments. It all ends with a duel and a fatal balloon chase—or does it? One final plot twist turns the whole tale on its head. ‘Croft’s’ annotations, like the footnotes in George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman novels, are, in this reviewer’s opinion, the best part of the book. With impressive scholarship and sharp wit, O’Toole lays bare for the non-specialist the real and persistent mysteries that still surround the trial of the Lincoln assassins. Altogether, highly entertaining and highly informative.