Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase For Lincoln’s Killer is one of the most entertaining, fascinating non-fiction audio books of the year – period! History buffs might quibble over the complexities of the material, but that’s the reader’s prerogative. If you are looking for a shocking revelation or a JFK-like conspiracy theory, this won’t tickle your fancy. But if you are looking for an audio presentation with a fresh perspective, oft-forgotten details, and perhaps something you never knew before, then you’ve just found the Holy Grail. James L. Swanson’s narrative flows like a detective novel combined with a non-stop summer blockbuster. From the moment you put the first disc in your CD player, you will be sucked into the story and entertained throughout.
The book doesn’t start with the manhunt. There is a bit of back-story on what John Wilkes Booth did with his co-conspirators in the hours preceding the shooting of Lincoln. This is the essential build-up of the story, and it is still absolutely riveting. The book kicks into high gear as Booth’s plan to kill Lincoln, Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward unfolds.
“Booth plunged both hands into the deep, copious pockets of his frock black coat and withdrew his weapons. In his right hand was the 44. Caliber derringer pistol. In his left the shiny and sharp Rio Grande camp knife. He steadied himself. Booth’s thumb pulled back the hammer of the derringer until he heard it cock into firing position. His hand dropped to the porcelain doorknob. Booth opened the door and stepped into the president’s box. Lincoln was so near. If Booth desired he could reach out and tap him on the shoulder with the derringer’s muzzle. He stepped toward Lincoln who was stationary. Booth focused his eyes on the back of the president’s head. He raised his right arm to shoulder height and extended it forward, aiming the pistol at Lincoln’s head. He didn’t really have to aim. Aiming suggest a marksman’s skill. He was so close to the president now that all he had to do was point the derringer.”
What really makes this audio book is Richard Thomas’s performance; it is absolutely perfect for this material. I don’t mean in his skill of doing voices and accents. His pauses and attention to detail made me feel as if he was telling the story exclusively to me. There are some short spots where the dialogue feels a little fluffy and melodramatic – but very little. For the most part it is a fantastic reading by the former The Waltons star.
The pace is pitch-perfect as Swanson deftly weaves the story from April 14th, 1865, all the way through to the demise of John Wilkes Booth on April 16th, when Booth refused to surrender. You will be amazed at how the hours fly by as you listen. There is no need to be a Civil War buff or a history major to get into this. It is just that good.