Lawyer/historian James L. Swanson is the coauthor of Lincoln's Assassins (2001), an enthusiastically received volume that primarily provided a visual record of the persons, places and events surrounding the April 1865 murder of the president and its aftermath. With Manhunt: The Twelve-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, Swanson explores in dramatic detail John Wilkes Booth's escape from Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., along with his subsequent flight through Maryland and Virginia, which culminated in his death at the hands of federal cavalry troops.
Rather than merely present a recounting of facts already fairly well known, Swanson draws on the official record and other published testimony and then infuses his text with a fictional sensibility that attempts to get inside the minds and hearts of the principals. Booth, a noted actor in his time and a member of a famous theatrical family, takes center stage, with Swanson offering a nearly heartfelt portrait of the man's personal charisma and the fanatical devotion to the Southern cause that drove him to his deadly deed.
Swanson also comprehensively covers the backstory leading up to Booth's history-changing act including his abortive scheme to kidnap Lincoln, which morphed by happenstance into a hastily arranged but effective assassination plan. Swanson's depiction of the nation's capital in the days following Lee's surrender to Grant is vividly wrought, as are his profiles of the public officials determined to bring Booth to justice. In particular, we're introduced to a heroic secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, who essentially took control of the government in the critical days following Lincoln's slaying.
With its colorful historical backdrop and tragic underpinnings, the book gathers steam as it goes, with Booth, hobbled by a broken leg, haltingly making his way through the countryside and later across the Potomac River, eventually betrayed by Confederate sympathizers. This is a true-adventure tale of the first rank, and, not surprisingly, the book's already been snapped up by Hollywood, with Harrison Ford tapped for the lead role as of one of the agents heading up the Booth manhunt. Martin Brady is a writer in Nashville.