December 17, 2009

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A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Murder of Abraham Lincoln

Written by Rick Geary
Illustrated by Rick Geary
NBM

I can't believe it took me this long to get to Geary's take on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, given that a) I love Geary's Victorian Murder series and b) I have a long-standing interest in the Civil War.

Regardless, I've read it now, and as with all of the other Geary books I've read so far, I am glad that I did.

This entry in the series begins just a bit before the actual murder, setting the stage for what is to come later. The Union has just about won the Civil War, and Lincoln, fresh off a harrowing but ultimately decisive presidential victory, is ready to turn his eyes towards peace.

John Wilkes Booth and some fellow conspirators have other ideas, as they hope that a last-ditch effort to kidnap the Railsplitter will lead to Confederate independence.

Obviously, the kidnap plan morphs into something far more sinister, as Booth plots and Lincoln goes about the life of a victorious war president with a rather socially awkward wife. Geary, with his usual quiet and factual style, mirrors the life of these two important figures in American history until they combine into a tragic ending. Lincoln, of course, dies, and Booth, while alive ever-so-briefly, doesn't get the hero's welcome he hoped for once he flees south.

In the end, many lives are destroyed and the South still falls. Geary continues to mirror their paths, showing the Presidential Funeral train and Booth's flight at the same time. Conspirators are given their brief endings, while Geary turns a suspicious eye (notable because Geary is extremely balanced in his presentation of these events) to Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War who acted oddly before and after the assassination.

There really isn't anything new to be found in Geary's book, but that's not the point of reading the Victorian Murder series. What you can count on is a concise, factual account of the events, drawn in Geary's signature mock wood block style. (I think it works best when he's in the 19th Century.) He does some neat facial work in this one, giving booth a crazed look, Lincoln an almost bemused air, and captures the staring expression so common in 19th Century photographs.

Of note is Geary's belief that Mudd played some role in the conspiracy (often disputed) and that Mary Surratt may have been wronged. The brevity of the material also highlights just how preventable Lincoln's assassination was. (Insert your own thoughts about why it may not have been prevented here.) Sometimes, a shorter account gets to the point better.

Anyone who is a fan of Geary's other books will love this one, and I'd also recommend it to the Civil War buff in your family, especially if they're younger. This is better presented than a lot of the books for kids I've seen on the Civil War.

That doesn't mean it isn't for an adult, though. While it may not be 700 pages, but the effect of the visuals is moving to those with a strong attachment to America's 16th president. More so than any of the other books in this series, The Murder of Abraham Lincoln can pull at your emotions as Lincoln dies. Geary's book is a fine tribute to the end of the live of a man for the ages.