Sunday, November 17, 2013

Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase to Catch Lincoln's Killer

by James L. Swanson

The whole time I was reading this book something was not sitting right with me, but it wasn't until close to the end that I finally pinpointed my annoyance; Manhunt paints John Wilkes Booth as a martyr. While I understand the value in looking at events from differing perspectives, I think it is necessary to do so honestly, and I think that was lacking in this telling of the Lincoln assassination.

To begin with, the title leads you to believe the book is about tracking Booth down as he tries to escape after killing Lincoln. In reality it is about Booth trying to avoid being captured. The difference is perspective. The majority of the book is following Booth as he is on the run, it is his perspective, his thoughts, concerns and efforts to flee. While he is in hiding and being smuggled from shelter to shelter the author repeatedly refers to anyone who might expose Booth as unpatriotic, a betrayer or Judas. Swanson also characterizes the troops hunting Booth in a negative light, particularly in the epilogue, where he makes it seem like they only wanted money and glory.

Another issue for me was how the author presented Booth's case for carrying out the murder of the president. He spends a lot of time allowing Booth to justify himself through letters (actual), thoughts and conversations (invented), and makes Booth look like a righteous defender of the Constitution and the Confederacy.  But then he brushes aside the damning motivations of Booth: his hatred of blacks, his anger over Lincoln's sympathy and promotion of equality, his anger over Lee's surrender, and his self-righteousness. The book also makes a lot of effort to build tender relationships between J Wilkes Booth and his friends and family. There are letters from him to his sister, and several endearing comments from her toward him. It makes him appear concerned over the safety of this conspirators and his partner on the lam to the neglect of his own pain, etc. But his betrayal, dishonesty and exploitation of these same friends is totally disregarded. I guess I'm just getting tired of everyone trying to make the bad guys look good.

Finally, I have questions as to this book being classified as non-fiction. While there are many stated facts, copies of letters and news articles, photos, etc, there seems to be a lot of liberty taken in regard to thoughts of people, conversations between them, and interpretation of characters.

I'm mixed as to recommending this read. It was interesting and detailed areas of the Lincoln assassination that I'd not read about before (seen History channel documentaries, but not read), but I do wish it'd been a little more objective.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Dr. Sleep

by Stephen King

I warned you in my previous post.... lots of King this year! And here it is, the long awaited sequel to The Shining, which I reread a few months ago in anticipation of this. Although I did enjoy my return to The Overlook, it was unnecessary as Dr. Sleep easily could stand alone. Even though the main character, Danny Torrence is the same and there are references to some places and situations from Danny's nightmarish childhood, you know you can't go back since the hotel blew up.

After years living in an alcoholic stupor, Danny Torrence's shining comes back in full force when he is contacted by a little girl, Abra whose shining may be stronger than Dan's ever was. She needs help after learning of a group of travelers who live off of the steam from Shiners and they want hers! The True Knot, as they call themselves, have "turned" from an earthly existence to a supernatural one that gets their strength and eternal youth from human suffering, in particular from children who shine. I loved Teenytown and the train and Danny's job of helping people cross from this life to the next.

I love how King can bring so much new to the table and also include so much from before. As always, there are glimpses of past and unrelated novels of his, and this time a reference to a Joe Hill novel (King's son).  He has such an imagination and such an ability to share it! As I've said before, just read him.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Test of Wills

by Charles Todd

For some reason, this year has been filled with Stephen King and first books in a series. A Test of Wills falls into the latter category, being Book 1 of the Inspector Rutledge mysteries. Suffering from PTSD after WWI, Ian Rutledge returns to his post as an inspector with Scotland Yard. His supervisor, wanting to find a reason to dismiss him, sends Rutledge off to solve a seemingly unsolvable small village murder.

The first section of the book is pretty good in revealing the murder and identifying a number of possible suspects, as well as building the character of Rutledge and the ghosts of his past, one of which will not leave him alone. However, once the investigation begins, there seems to be a lot of repetition without much story-building. Rutledge returns to the same suspects over and over with the same questions and results until the "surprise" ending, which seems to come out of nowhere. Even as the story progressed I expected this exact type of ending.

I think this may be a decent first of a mystery series. Easy reading with a hint of historical reference, but not enough to qualify as historical fiction (in my opinion). I might pick up another one in a pinch. If you like Maisie Dobbs, Ladies Detective Agency or Flavia de Luce novels, you'd like this one.