On the morning of April 2, 1865, Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, received a telegram from General Robert E. Lee. There is no more time - the Yankees are coming, it warned. Shortly before midnight, Davis fled the capital, setting off an intense and thrilling chase in which Union cavalry hunted the Confederate president.
Two weeks later, President Lincoln was assassinated, and the nation was convinced that Davis was involved in the conspiracy that led to the crime. To the Union, Davis was no longer merely a traitor. He became a murderer, a wanted man with a $100,000 bounty on his head. Davis was hunted down and placed in captivity, the beginning of an intense and dramatic odyssey that would transform him into a martyr of the South's Lost Cause.
Meanwhile, Lincoln's final journey began when soldiers placed his corpse aboard a special train that would carry the fallen president through the largest and most magnificent funeral pageant in American history.
The saga that began with Manhunt continues with the suspenseful and electrifying Bloody Crimes. James Swanson masterfully weaves together the stories of two fallen leaders as they made their last expeditions through the bloody landscape of a wounded nation.
©2010 James L. Swanson (P)2010 HarperCollins Publishers
Bloody Crimes is a good book, but not a great one. Unlike Swanson's previous book in this series, about the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth and his fellow conspirators, this book does not have an adventure at its core, nor the pacing the a detective-story-like volume is the natural consequence of its subject. I would give the earlier book a "5" had I listened to it (I read it). This book gets a "3." But the book itself is bumpy, uneven. With respect to the flight of Jefferson Davis, there have been better books on this subject. Davis gets short shrift here, little new information. With respect to Lincoln, the new material relates to the funeral and the long trip from Washington DC to Springfield. This is interesting, in its way. In part I was interested because my paternal great-grandmother saw Lincoln's body in Cleveland on that trip (it is one of the few things I know about her).
Although the funeral portion is new, it is also the most uneven part of the book. Long passages describing orders-of-march, planning, peoples' clothing and such are interspersed with the politics of the time & the players (politics & players being the more interesting of these two). Swanson could have done some editing here to help the book move along (of course, one of the weaknesses of audio is that you cannot easily skim through such passages).
If you are willing to tolerate this uneveness, there are good parts too. The excellent narration by Richard Thomas helps to save it.
This book is well read, but the writing is not as good as manhunt. Swanson seems to have a personal dislike for Mary Lincoln which is not backed up by facts in the book. Every statement about her seems to be tainted with the idea of her being a bad person, as opposed to the widow or Jeffery Davidson. don't buy it.
I think Manhunt was a brilliant book and I couldn't put it down. This feels like the publisher wanted a follow-up book no matter what. The comparisons between Lincoln and Davies are mildly interesting and the history is thorough. But there is nothing of the excitement and action of Manhunt.
I thought I heard a yawn from the narrator a couple of times.
It is really just a very very long account of what happened after Lincoln's death. The detail of the funeral and procession is drawn out and long; filling in the pages for the sake of filling them in. There seems little purpose and it feels like the author was getting paid by the word for some chapters.
The prose of the day with its excessive flourishes makes for tedious listening today and the author padded this book with a surplus of that kind of quoted material. In doing so, he took two interesting stories and diminished them with trivia. This is one of the reasons for footnotes. Richard Thomas does as much as I suppose he can with this.
"Fascinating and well written"
This is a beautifully written book. It occasionally suffers from stretching out the material to fill a book: there are just too many lists of how much black ribbon was used where. That is its only shortcoming, though. The narration never intrudes but always completes the story.
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