53 pages 1 hour read

James L. Swanson

Chasing Lincoln's Killer

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2009

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Summary and Study Guide


Chasing Lincoln’s Killer is a YA novel adapted from the adult version, Manhunt, both by James L. Swanson. Manhunt is a meticulously researched nonfiction novel describing the hunt for John Wilkes Booth, and includes previously unpopularized transcripts, archives, and interviews. Published by Scholastic in 2009, Chasing Lincoln’s Killer makes these rare historical finds digestible for younger audiences and provides a rapid-fire, abridged version of the narrative of the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth.

Those who only know the roles of Booth and Dr. Samuel Mudd in the plot to assassinate the sixteenth President of the United States will learn a lot and may be particularly surprised by the breadth and complexity of events surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Many people, for instance, might think Booth acted alone, and in a relatively unpremeditated manner. In reality, his successful attempt at the Ford Theater was not Booth’s first plan to assassinate the President; nor was he acting alone. Booth and his fellow conspirators imagined a sweeping plot to kill the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State. The conspirators’ final plan itself was not well-conceived, and their aim of reviving Southern military operations was foolish in light of their lack of affiliation with the Confederacy. They merely managed partial success by killing Lincoln and wounding William Seward (Lincoln’s Secretary of State), and their plot failed to spark any sort of resurgent rebellion.

Swanson’s storytelling is brisk and to the point. He writes much like a journalist and includes reproductions of the many primary sources he used to research the book. In keeping with an objective voice, he provides a somewhat muted account that does not seek to identify heroes and villains. It places the story and those involved in it in the context of realistic, often mundane motives. For example, he notes greed on the part of many of those who pursued Booth and his allies. He also demonstrates that some of those involved in aiding Booth, such as Mudd, were in many ways merely unlucky figures.

The story jumps back and forth from the shocked reaction of a country in mourning in Washington DC to the tense moments of the killers in their hideouts as they try to reach sanctuary in the failed Confederate states. Chasing Lincoln’s Killer sheds light on the divisions inherent in American culture from its founding to the present day.