The Lincoln Deception: A look at what could have been
By Michael G. Williams
For several years, David Stewart has made his literary bones in the realm of nonfiction with award-winning bestsellers like The Summer of 1787 (Simon & Schuster, 2008), Impeached (Simon & Schuster, 2009), and American Emperor (Simon & Schuster, 2011). His latest book, The Lincoln Deception (Kensington, 2013), is something of a departure.
Stewart’s first foray into fiction, the story begins in 1900 with a deathbed confession from John Bingham, who 35 years prior had prosecuted John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirators for their roles in the murder of President Abraham Lincoln. Bingham tells his physician, 39-year-old Jamie Fraser, that he has kept a terrible secret revealed to him by one of the conspirators, a secret that could destroy the country.
To Fraser’s dismay, Bingham takes the secret to his grave and leaves the young country doctor obsessed with uncovering its details. In his quest to solve this national mystery, Fraser links up with a former African-American baseball player named Speed Cook.
Together, the two follow a perilous trail of clues that leads them to a well-to-do actor (who happens to be Booth’s nephew), his business manager, and a powerful cotton tycoon with shady ties to a Northern pro-Confederate group called the Sons of Liberty.
Fiction and fact
In weaving his suspenseful tale, Stewart offers the reader an attractive blend of fiction and historical fact that only an experienced historian could. Carried by a colorful ensemble cast of characters—some of them real, some of them products of Stewart’s imagination—the book presents an angle of the Lincoln assassination that is not all that far-fetched.
Some scholars have long speculated that there was more to this conspiracy than a band of shiftless, disgruntled Confederates. Regardless of whether you subscribe to this theory, The Lincoln Deception is a masterfully written book.
Stewart delivers a strong narrative current driven by historical exposition and good old-fashioned drama. The result is a brisk action plot with the pace of an Elmore Leonard novel.
Perhaps most impressive is Stewart’s grasp of dialogue. The exchange between his characters is not only natural but full of verve and humanity and contributes heartily to a plot bursting with surprises.
It’s difficult to believe that this is his first novel. Let’s hope that it isn’t his last.