The Lincoln Deception
Published by: Kensington
Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Politics and Prose, Apple
A Barnes & Noble Top 10 "Mystery Pick" for August 2013!
In 1900, John Bingham lies dying in Cadiz, Ohio. He tells his doctor, Jamie Fraser, that he learned a terrible secret thirty-five years before when he prosecuted John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirators. That secret of the Lincoln assassination, he confides, could destroy the republic, but will die with him.
Fraser, a 39-year-old widower who is weary of small-town doctoring, becomes obsessed with Bingham’s secret. Fate throws him together with the voluble Speed Cook, the last black man to play in the big leagues and aspiring newspaper publisher. Together they puzzle over the fragmentary evidence of the Booth conspiracy and set out to learn more. Their trail takes them to Booth’s nephew (a star actor himself) and the man’s beautiful business manager (who captures Fraser’s heart), and leads to the nation’s leading cotton tycoon, a man with murky connections to the Sons of Liberty, a Northern pro-Confederacy group from the 1860s.
Fraser and Cook face immense risks -- a mugging on an Indiana riverside, a race riot in New York City, and a terrifying trap atop the new Williamsburg Bridge. Confounding their pursuers with resourcefulness and courage, they reach a Washington, DC showdown with the shadowy tycoon and the senior surviving general of the Confederate Army and the appalling truth of Mr. Bingham’s secret.
For a video of David O. Stewart's talk on The Lincoln Deception, click here.
For a video of David O. Stewart's talk on "Family of Assassins: The Surratts of Maryland," click here.
"This fast-paced and smartly researched first novel is astonishingly good, complete with sharp and colorful characters, nicely drawn by Stewart." (Best historical novel of 2013)
—Stephen L. Carter Bloomberg View, December 3, 2013
“Impressive debut novel…Eschewing the wild fantasies of many conspiracy thrillers, Stewart constructs a plausible version of history that works as both fiction and speculative inquiry.”
—Publishers Weekly, July 22, 2013
"One of the most satisfying treats of “The Lincoln Deception” is the engaging way it reminds us that the actual story [of the Lincoln assassination] was much more complicated. . . . There is more than enough to satisfy any reader of historical whodunits. . . its conclusion has a wry double edge that Lincoln himself would have appreciated."
—Washington Post, December 7, 2013
"Stewart's debut novel, set in 1900, is dense with detail and intrigue, making a hearty read for conspiracy addicts."
—Library Journal, September, 2013
"The Lincoln Deception is a superb melding of fact, mystery, and imaginary 'what-ifs' that blow open the conspiracy shrouds surrounding the murder of a president."
—GateHouse News Service, September 20, 2013
"Stewart delivers a strong narrative current driven by historical exposition and good old-fashioned drama. The result is a brisk action plot with the pace of an Elmore Leonard novel. Perhaps most impressive is Stewart’s grasp of dialogue. The exchange between his characters is not only natural but full of verve and humanity and contributes heartily to a plot bursting with surprises.
"It’s difficult to believe that this is his first novel. Let’s hope that it isn’t his last."
—Michael Williams, Erickson Tribune, October 2013
"Historian Stewart has written some great nonfiction, and his first attempt at fiction works quite well. . . . What truly makes the story work is the main character, Dr. Jamie Fraser, and his relentless search for answers." Four Stars!
—RT Book Reviews, September 1, 2013
“David O. Stewart dramatically reopens the file on the Lincoln assassination conspiracy with a nail-biting, historically grounded page turner. Where the facts end and the fiction begins will inspire plenty of debate. Meanwhile enjoy this for the terrific read Stewart provides.”
—Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln, official young adult companion book to the Stephen Spielberg film.
"[F]ictionalization gives Stewart room to tell an exciting story and develop unusual characters in depth . . . [The Lincoln Deception] raises interesting questions while taking a fresh angle on the Lincoln story."
—The Historical Novels Review, November 2013
“David O. Stewart has done more than write an historical novel: The Lincoln Deception is concocted in the best traditions of the genre. He's unearthed a remote, fascinating and still-relevant tidbit from the past, then brought it to breathless, riveting life with vivid prose, top-notch research, stunning evocations of turn-of-the-century America, and masterful urgency. Entertaining, educating, and elevating.”
—David L. Robbins, Author of War of the Rats and The Devil’s Waters
“David O. Stewart, a distinguished writer of historical nonfiction, brings off a remarkable feat in his debut novel. Seizing on the enigmatic last words of the man who prosecuted the Booth conspirators, Stewart transforms a little-known aspect of Lincoln assassination lore into a gripping mystery story. With its sharp plotting and engaging characters, the novel succeeds as both a thriller and a historical inquiry.”
—Daniel Stashower, author of The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War
"David Stewart's latest is a rip-snorting tale about those involved in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Did the conspiracy involve more than John Wilkes Booth and his gang? What secret did Union prosecutor John Bingham carry to the grave . . . This is a compelling volume which, while speculative, presents plausible answers to these and many other questions."
—Frank J. Williams, Founding Chair of The Lincoln Forum and retired Chief Justice, Rhode Island Supreme Court
The opening scene in this novel—the deathbed statement of John Bingham about the mysterious midtrial disclosure of Mrs. Mary Surratt—is drawn from Bingham of the Hills, a largely unread 1989 biography of Bingham by Erving E. Beauregard. Beauregard describes the scene in a single paragraph and attributes it to a family story related to him by the grandson of Bingham’s physician. I came upon the passage while researching a book about the Andrew Johnson impeachment trial (Impeached); it stuck in my mind for several years and would not be dislodged. I read widely about the Booth conspiracy and became dissatisfied with the standard portrayal of Booth as the crazed, vindictive assassin. The conspiracy was too big to fit in that frame. Because the provenance for Bingham’s deathbed scene is by no means sturdy, and because Bingham never disclosed what Mrs. Surratt told him, a fictional treatment allowed me the freedom to explore the Booth conspiracy in the speculative fashion warranted by the known facts.
Why did you want to write about one of the worst crimes in American history, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln?
That’s exactly the reason. The assassination denied America the leadership of its greatest president at the beginning of perhaps his greatest challenge — rebuilding a nation torn apart by civil war and somehow integrating the freed slaves into American life. And there are still so many unanswered questions about the crime.
What are those unanswered questions?
This was not just a lone gunman, some crazed lunatic. Booth had assembled a team of assassins, though not all were terribly impressive human beings. They targeted anywhere from three to five top officials of the Union government – not just President Lincoln, but also his vice president, his Secretary of State, and very likely his Secretary of War and the General-in-Chief of the Union Army. As the lead character in the novel realizes, it was not an assassination so much as an attempted coup d’etat. Could this one unemployed actor plan all of that by himself? Hard to imagine.
Who was John Bingham, whose name is in the title of the book?
Bingham was the lead prosecutor of the Booth conspirators in the summer of 1865, and as a congressmen went on to write the guarantees of “due process” and “equal protection” in the Fourteenth Amendment. On his deathbed in 1900, Bingham confided to his doctor that Mrs. Mary Surratt – one of the Booth conspirators who was hanged—had told him a secret that could destroy the republic. The secret, he said, would die with him, and so it did. This book tries to imagine the terrible secret that Mr. Bingham took to his grave.
What evidence leads you to conclude that the Booth Conspiracy was wider than generally thought?
Really, five broad points:
- It was a giant conspiracy that targeted the top leaders in the North; as noted above, more of a coup d’etat than an assassination. Not the plan of a lone crackpot.
- Booth and several of his co-conspirators lived without resources for many months before the assassination; someone was paying for them. (“Follow the money!”)
- Booth and John Surratt both were agents of the Confederate secret service.
- Booth’s escape route led him repeatedly to Confederate spies as he successfully evaded thousands of Union soldiers who were searching for him; not something a lone evil genius could have achieved.
- Mr. Bingham’s deathbed statement: what else could he have learned from Mary Surratt that would have threatened to destroy the republic?
Your two lead characters are very different—a white doctor from small-town Ohio and an African-American ex-ballplayer. How could they become friends in America in 1900?
That relationship was one of the challenging elements of the writing process, and the short answer is that it’s a very rocky partnership – as you would expect. They are united in their need to find out the truth about the Lincoln assassination, but race and experience keep pushing them apart. America was a very racist place in 1900; the Jim Crow segregation laws were spreading, and it was fascinating and infuriating to imagine the feelings of an educated and sophisticated African-American like Speed Cook. The bond between the two men becomes real and powerful through the story, but I felt that a racial divide would always be there. And so it is, right to the end.
One of your main characters, Speed Cook, is an African-American crusader for racial justice who was the last man of his race to be driven out of professional baseball. Did you just make him up?
Cook is an entirely fictional character, but he was inspired by a very real man, Moses Fleetwood (“Fleet”) Walker, who came from Steubenville, Ohio. Walker was, in fact, the last African-American to play in the big leagues between 1888 and 1947, had attended Oberlin College and the University of Michigan, and was a fighter for the rights of black people. He wrote a remarkable pamphlet after the turn of the century arguing that black people should return to Africa because they would never be treated fairly in America. For a multi-talented man like Fleet Walker, being a black man in America in 1900 had to be a special form of torture.
Why move from writing non-fiction – you have had three successful books on American history – to a novel?
It was all about this particular story. I first read about Mr. Bingham’s deathbed statements when I was researching my second book,Impeached, about the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson (Mr. Bingham was the lead prosecutor in that trial, too!). The account of Mr. Bingham’s deathbed statement appears in a very obscure biography and has never been explored by anyone. I walked around with it in my head for three years, trying to figure out what I could do with it. I read as much as I could about the Lincoln assassination and finally decided that only a fictionalized account would allow me the freedom to explore what Mr. Bingham said and what it might have meant.
Why set the story in 1900, 35 years after the assassination, when the trail of the Booth conspirators would already have been quite cold?
The most obvious reason is that Mr. Bingham told no one about his secret until 1900 and I wanted to be faithful to that fact. There’s a saying about historical fiction that you can make up a lot, but Abraham Lincoln has to be tall; that is, you should be faithful to facts when they’re known. Also, sometimes an investigation can be more successful many years later, when passions have cooled; some people, unlike Mr. Bingham, may be more likely to talk when they are facing the prospect of taking their secrets to the grave. Finally, I have always loved Josephine Tey’s novel, The Daughter of Time, in which a 20th-century detective attempts to investigate the strangling of the little princes in the Tower of London almost five hundred years earlier. I hoped to work some of that same magic with the Booth story.