Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson

Finished on September 4th, 2008

Who is the more admirable character, the actress Laura Keene or the assassin’s sister, Asia Booth Clarke?

Before reading this book, I would have had no idea how to answer this question, but now I know all this and more and am very glad to have read this book.

I first heard about the book as a potential film project that Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford were looking at, but didn’t pick up the book until a couple of months ago. It reads very easily and is the exciting and compelling true life mystery of the hunt for John Wilkes Booth after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Packed full of history and an incredibly petty and sordid supporting cast (especially on the Union side), this book was absolutely delightful.

What was especially nice in my edition of the book was the interview with the author and the questions in the back like the one above. In my opinion, Asia Booth Clarke is more admirable than Laura Keene. Laura Keene wove her way into the assassination legacy by resting Lincoln’s head in her lap shortly after the assassination (despite advice to the contrary from doctors on the scene, just to get Lincoln’s brain matter on her dress). Asia Booth Clarke (Wilkes’ sister) spent her lifetime trying to redeem her brother…not for the act he committed, but as a true Christian hating the sin (the assassination) and not the sinner (her misguided brother).

The other interesting question was: Is Thomas Jones, the rebel river ghost, to be admired for his code of honor or condemned for his aid to the assassin?

And like a true Republican Southerner, I once again side with the South on this question. I think Thomas Jones, who risked his life to get Wilkes across the Potomac from Maryland to Virginia, is to be admired for maintaining his Southern code of honor and protecting Wilkes not because of his crime (even in spite of it), but because Wilkes was a Southern patriot and true believer in the cause (even if it is misguided, sticking to your belief is an admirable and respectable quality).

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