Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Book Review: The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, by Stephen L. Carter

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln is a very interesting alternate-history book, perfect for the current political season.  It’s a legal drama that supposes that Abraham Lincoln survived John Wilkes Booth’s bullet and went on to serve as President well after the end of the Civil War. Our history was much different of course: Lincoln was succeeded by the corrupt and incompetent Andrew Johnson, who himself only narrowly avoided being successfully impeached.

Carter imagines Johnson instead being the victim of an assassin’s bullet – in our history, he was also targeted for assassination by the plotters, but at the at last minute that part of the plan fell through. In Carter’s novel, Johnson dies but Lincoln survives, only to be set up for vast conspiracy built around a show-trial of an impeachment.

Enter our main character: a young black woman, Abigail Canner, who was been given a job at as a law clerk at the law firm charged with defending Lincoln, coincidentally just at the time the trial is due to proceed. There’s a lot of intrigue and murder and Abigail is quickly involved in the action. Abigail is a strong female protagonist who must not only deal with the prejudice she faces, but also some personal revelations as she slowly but surely helps unravel the conspiracy against the President of the United States.

As Abigail moves through the novel, Carter paints a very detailed picture of life in post-Civil War Washington DC, describing the emerging black middle and professional class. He also goes into great detail about the Washington elite and political power brokers of the day, mixing both historical fictional characters with ease. Through this, you gain a very sense of the political machinations that swirled around Lincoln in real life.

It’s something that historians such as Doris Kearns Goodwin writing in her 2005 Team of Rivals, have noted. Upon becoming President in 1860, with the country slipping headlong into civil war, Lincoln invited his chief rivals for the Republican presidential nomination into his cabinet. Of course they were able individuals and with a war coming, Lincoln needed them. But quite possibly, he was following the old maxim of keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer.

Now be warned: The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln is a very long, dense read, packed with historical details. But once it gets moving, it moves. It should appeal to court room drama fans and alt-history fans alike. Definitely recommended.

What’s Next?
I’ve just started to read Harry Turtledove’s newest release in paperback: Bombs Away, the first book in his new The Hot War series. Watch for a review of it in the near future.  Coming up over the next few months, I’ll also have reviews on Peter Tieryas’s United States of Japan, Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Utopia and, as promised, The Man in the High Castle first season.

Meanwhile, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.

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