The Lincoln Conspiracy


It seems that limping, cane-wielding, 19th-century heroes are popping out of the woodwork these days. The BBC’s star of Copper hobbles the streets of a rough-and-tumble New York City, bludgeoning criminals, wayward priests and bankers alike, and now Timothy O’Brien’s detective, Temple McFadden, limps into scenes set in a shattered post-bellum Washington, DC, a month after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Temp is a trifle less vicious in his cane usage but equally appealing. (The 1977 quasi-documentary by the same name as this novel did not, in fact, feature a disabled lead character.) However, the O’Brien novel succeeds in ways that neither the British TV show nor the critically panned re-enactment does.

O’Brien draws from his love of the Civil War era and, instead of getting all serious about a new conspiracy theory, contents himself with entertaining the reader. He takes historical figures of the time — the much maligned Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, legendary spymaster Allan Pinkerton, famed photographer Alexander Gardner, abolitionist Sojourner Truth, and others — then effectively combines them with characters purely of his imagination, such as Temple’s delightfully spunky wife, Fiona.

The story leaps into vivid action from page one, with the discovery of two diaries on the body of a dead man. One belongs to President Lincoln’s widow, Mary Todd Lincoln. The other is an encrypted journal kept by the president’s supposed killer, John Wilkes Booth. They must be protected, their secrets revealed. Temple vows to discover their hidden truths, and it seems everyone else in Washington wants to stop him. There is nothing more fun than losing oneself in O’Brien’s rich and riotous mixture of reimagination and fact. History buffs will enjoy recognizing familiar faces and facts, and readers unaccustomed to historical fiction may well be won over to the genre after reading this fast-paced, well-conceived adventure.

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(US) 9780345496775