Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer — James L. Swanson

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The first question that came up during our discussion was “What’s the mystery?”

Yes, this was a non-fiction book, rather than a classic mystery, and yes, we all know how it ends, but in the thriller genre, don’t we also know that the bad guy will get caught, too?  Part of the fun is getting to what we know the ending will be and then being a little surprised at how the author handles the ending.

It was rather the same in this book.  Not being a Lincoln assassination dweeb, I only knew the basics, probably learned in elementary school – Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth in Ford Theater.  I don’t think I ever knew that Booth ran free for almost two weeks or that, in the end, he was shot himself. 

We enjoyed this book, as evidenced by the number of stars we gave it.  One of our group has been to Ford’s Theater and the Petersen House across the street, so we were able to ask her if it was a shrine to Lincoln or to Booth. 

She didn’t think it was either, but rather a tribute to an incident in history.

We discussed whether we thought the people who had been hanged should have been, particularly Mrs. Suratt, and whether or not Dr. Mudd was as innocent as he claimed.  And then there was the discussion about how it seemed like everyone was forgiven pretty quickly.  We were pretty surprised to learn that President Johnson pardoned people before he left office, bodies were released to families so they could be buried in consecrated ground and there was generally a forgiving of the conspirators.  The living weren’t forgiven as quickly, as evidenced by John Surratt’s reception some five years later when he tried to lecture in Washington.

But we all agreed that the whole episode was a comedy of errors, a Keystone Kops kind of thing.  Booth running and running and then inexplicably sitting for a few days.  Getting lost on the river and then not moving for a day.  Getting to the Garrett farm and then sitting.  The Army riding past the Garrett farm in the middle of the night, then riding back and surrounding the barn.  The inability of the Army to make a decision and when they did, choosing to send a civilian in to do the dirty work, rather than just storming the barn.  It’s a wonder they won the war!

We’re beginning to commence to think about next year’s reading list, so be sure to send me your suggestions.  Or you can post them here in the comments.

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The Cruelest Month — Louise Penny

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We had a very lively discussion about this book.  Those of us who read it mostly enjoyed it — Joan found the descriptions of the food amazing, though Nancy thought having so many characters was confusing. 

We agreed that while the number of characters was confusing, they all really added to the intricacies of the story.  There was so much going on, so many themes to investigate, so many relationships to look at and so many secrets to be revealed. 

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache was named as a favorite character, as was Ruth, the lady with the ducks and Myrna. 

Most of us didn’t like Peter, with his jealousy and passive/aggressive behavior.  The pretty boy Agent Lemieux and the scary woman Agent Nichol were both named as hard to deal with.

I still think one of the most amazing descriptions I’ve read in a long time was the one where we see Agent Nichol in public for the first time.

Agent Yvette Nichol stood in the doorway of the gift boutique, her ill-fitting blue pant suit dirty at the cuffs from mud, her hair cut in a pageboy, out of fashion since the 1600s, and wearing lipstick that looked as though someone had taken a potato peeler to her lips.

But for all the lively discussion and enjoyment of the book, no one seemed really eager to go back and read other stories in the series.  This is the third and there are four, soon to be five after it.  While we liked the book, it was a little exhausting, what with all the characters, and no one seemed ready to jump into that again very soon.

Though Joan wouldn’t mind going to that village for lunch sometime…