Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer

James L. Swanson

There’s an old adage that the best-selling American books are either about golf, cats or Abraham Lincoln, which led one wag to observe that if a person wanted to write a guaranteed bestseller, the title would be Golfing With Lincoln’s Cat. But James L. Swanson’s book, newly out in paperback, is no cheap bid for bestsellerdom, though it did occupy The New York Times Best Seller list for months. Manhunt is well written, loaded with riveting detail, rich in characterizations of the historical figures who play parts in the unfolding drama, and it’s constructed like a suspense novel. Even though we know how it’s going to turn out, the hunt for John Wilkes Booth reads like the very best fiction, pulling us through the events as they unfold. When the dying Abe Lincoln was carried across the street from Ford’s Theatre to a boarding house, he was too tall for the available bed, so the 16th president of the United States would die lying diagonally across a strange bed in a cheap boarding house. Details like that help bring an oft-told tale back to vivid life, and turn waxy figures from the past into flesh-and-blood human beings.