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Booth : a novel
David Robertson
Adult Fiction ROBERTS

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From Publishers' Weekly:

With its Civil War backdrop and its presentation (including period photographs) of a heinous crime involving real-life figures, Robertson's first novel brings to mind two other fiction debuts, Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain and Caleb Carr's The Alienist. The book doesn't match the literary sophistication of the former or the storytelling prowess of the latter, but it offers its own potent inducements, notably an immensely compelling subject‘the plot to assassinate Lincoln‘and a charismatic antihero, John Wilkes Booth. Less successful is the unwieldy structure erected by Robertson (Sly and Able, a biography of James F. Byrnes) to vivify Booth, largely through the eyes of James Surratt, the only alleged conspirator tried and found not guilty. Most of the narrative is flashback, framed by Surratt's account of his meetings in 1916 with D.W. Griffith, who wishes to exploit Surratt's story for commercial gain. The flashbacks themselves arise from Surratt's 1864-65 fictionalized diary (which lacks the spontaneity of true diary entries), from trial transcripts and, briefly, from Booth's fictionalized diary as he flees Union retribution. With all these elements, the narrative has a patchwork feel, but one sewn of deep-hued, velvety cloth. Robertson's portrayals‘particularly of the naïve Surratt and his love-starved mother (later hanged for conspiracy), and of the man who seduces them both, the mercurial, generous, egomaniacal Booth‘bloom with nuance. His depictions of urban life and battlefield death at the time carry the impression of truth. Above all, the novel, despite its scribble-scrabble structure and mechanical plot ploys (the attention-getting frame; Surratt's encounter with Lincoln shortly before the killing) brilliantly capitalizes on the inexorability of historical fact; few readers will put it down as it surges toward the horror of April 14, 1865, and beyond. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

Against the background of the plot to assassinate President Lincoln, first-time novelist Robertson presents a fascinating portrait of the family that John Wilkes Booth seduced and manipulated into assisting him in his heinous crime. Reluctant conspirator John Surratt narrates the progression of his friendship with Booth during the days leading up to Lincoln's assassination in April 1865. Booth confides to Surratt his plan to capture Lincoln and end the Civil War; then he presses Surratt into mapping his escape route. Suspense builds as the fateful day of the shooting draws near and an affair is intimated between Booth and Surratt's mother. Surratt is haunted all his life by the gallows death of his mother and by her final words, "Oh, please don't let me fall." The narrative is choppy in places and the style unpolished, but Robertson's masterful characterizations make up for his stylistic weaknesses. Sure to be popular with both fiction and nonfiction readers; recommended for all libraries.‘Molly Gorman, San Marino, Cal. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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main characters James Surratt
Alleged Lincoln assassination conspirator.

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