A nation shattered by its president’s murder
Two diaries that reveal the true scope of an American conspiracy
A detective determined to bring the truth to light, no matter what it costs him
From award-winning journalist Timothy L. O’Brien comes a gripping historical thriller that poses a provocative question: What if the plot to assassinate President Lincoln was wider and more sinister than we ever imagined?
In late spring of 1865, as America mourns the death of its leader, Washington, D.C., police detective Temple McFadden makes a startling discovery. Strapped to the body of a dead man at the B&O Railroad station are two diaries, two documents that together reveal the true depth of the Lincoln conspiracy. Securing the diaries will put Temple’s life in jeopardy—and will endanger the fragile peace of a nation still torn by war.
Temple’s quest to bring the conspirators to justice takes him on a perilous journey through the gaslit streets of the Civil War–era capital, into bawdy houses and back alleys where ruthless enemies await him in every shadowed corner. Aided by an underground network of friends—and by his wife, Fiona, a nurse who possesses a formidable arsenal of medicinal potions—Temple must stay one step ahead of Lafayette Baker, head of the Union Army’s spy service. Along the way, he’ll run from or rely on Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s fearsome secretary of war; the legendary Scottish spymaster Allan Pinkerton; abolitionist Sojourner Truth; the photographer Alexander Gardner; and many others.
Bristling with twists and building to a climax that will leave readers gasping, The Lincoln Conspiracy offers a riveting new account of what truly motivated the assassination of one of America’s most beloved presidents—and who participated in the plot to derail the train of liberty that Lincoln set in motion.
Praise for The Lincoln Conspiracy
“History as a dangerous, inventive game . . . fascinating.”—Martin Cruz Smith
“A notable fiction debut with an appealing detective hero and plenty of action. It gets off to a fast start and never stops.”—Library Journal
“A historical puzzle as labyrinthine and grandiose as Scheherazade’s tales . . . As clever as Sherlock Holmes, as wily as Pendergast in Preston and Child’s series, and wickedly funny on top of it all, the irresistible McFadden is due to return in a sequel—thank goodness!”—Booklist (starred review)
“[A] fast-paced, well-conceived adventure . . . There is nothing more fun than losing oneself in O’Brien’s rich and riotous mixture of reimagination and fact.”—Historical Novels Review
“Gripping . . . The history and overall arc of the novel are superb . . . and Temple McFadden proves to be a worthwhile hero.”—Associated Press
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.60(w) x 9.34(h) x 1.23(d)|
About the Author
Timothy L. O’Brien is the executive editor at the Huffington Post, where he edited the 2012 Pulitzer Prize–winning series about severely wounded war veterans, “Beyond the Battlefield.” Prior to joining the Huffington Post he was a reporter and editor at The New York Times, where helped oversee “The Reckoning,” a series about the financial crisis that was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2009. A graduate of Georgetown University, he holds three master's degrees—in U.S. History, Business, and Journalism—from Columbia University. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with his wife and two children.
Read an Excerpt
Rain kept the dust down.
Nothing else in Washington did, especially in early summer, when the heat started coming on and dirt in the streets began the slow broil that led into August. Fiona would hate that rain was already lashing the leather on his new boots. She was practical in these matters. But even Fiona would admit that rain kept the dust down. Temple would rather be with Fiona now, instead of gimping toward a train to fetch Augustus and Pint.
The small rain down can rain.
Christ that my love were in my arms
and I in my bed again.
As he crossed D Street on New Jersey Avenue, he could see the dome of the new Capitol building looming beyond and above the seventy-foot Italianate clock tower that marked the B&O Railroad station. If the rain got worse, New Jersey would get rutted and rats the size of dogs would slop in the puddles and pick through the garbage floating there. Several carriages and a string of horses—far more horses than usual—were tied to posts in front of the station. Union troops, boys mostly, were milling about in their blues. Weary little boys with swords and rifles and blank stares; today they seemed slightly frenzied. Then again, everyone was close to conniption fits with Lincoln dead only a month.
Shot. Dead. Just like that, the tired man, the calm one, the seer. Dead. Dead tired. Gone.
At the corner of C Street, the rain picked up and lashed Temple’s face as hard as it whipped his boots. A lashing, the Dublin priests and nuns had told him, was salutary. “Saaaluutarry, Temple. Good for you.” Then, smack. Fear the Lord, learn your grammar, and obey the rules of the orphanage. If you didn’t obey, smack. Pain, they thought, was an education in its own right. They knew hardly a thing about it, really. He had pain every day in his bad leg, small flashes he tried to ignore. When the pain got bad, occasionally very bad, he just leaned more heavily on his cane. Fiona could look in his face and know the singe was about to arrive in his leg. But then, Fiona looked in his face and saw everything.
Temple ducked beneath the B&O’s eaves to get out of the rain. He entered the depot and glanced at the ticket and freight offices, set opposite each other inside the station. A small group of women were huddled and chatting outside the ladies’ waiting room, while three men, their arms wrapped across one another’s shoulders, pressed toward the gentlemen’s saloon.
Temple looked beyond the entry hall to the car house, where the train to Baltimore waited. The railroad tracks cut diagonally through the car house, sheltered by a dozen granite pillars that supported an iron roof with a three-hundred-foot-long glass window set inside it. Rainwater smeared the glass. Even the sky can’t stop mourning the president, Temple thought.
The B&O tracks continued through the station, winding along C Street and First Street before crossing the mall in front of the Capitol, picking up Maryland Avenue and making their way to the Long Bridge. Virginia was beyond the Long Bridge. Baltimore and New York were the opposite way.
Temple scanned the platform near the Baltimore train. There—there now. There’s something unusual. Stump Tigani, the most deliberate capper in the District, was actually off his heels and in a rush.
Stump’s always a surprise, Temple thought. Amid the Union blues, the black long coats, and the crenellated, bell-blossomed hoopskirts of passengers waiting to board the train to Baltimore, Stump—small, muscular, and flinty—was darting along.
Like every newly minted Washington police detective (“You mean ‘defective,’ ” Fiona would laugh. “You have a limp and a cane, my love. You’re a police defective”), Temple was well aware of Stump’s calling card: courier for Northern spies and the Union army during the war, may have taken money from Secesh when it suited him; connected and resourceful; inscrutable; dangerous, very dangerous.
Finding Stump at the B&O wasn’t unusual. Stump had carried packages back and forth from this station many times before, sometimes twice in a single day, and all of his parcels had pedigrees: dispatches from powerful men, wealthy women, and furtive lovers. Transactions and messages; the daily push and pull. Stump hurrying, however, was quite odd. Stump was never invisible—no one in Washington was during the war—but he was paid well to be quiet, reliable, and discreet. He escorted clients’ secrets from one place to another with all of the devotion and circumspection of a father helping his toddler navigate the ruts across Pennsylvania Avenue. Everyone and everything got safely to the other side, but Stump never rushed.
Stump’s right hand was stuffed inside his overcoat. Looked like Old Boney. A gun? Or maybe Stump’s gut hurt. Bad food at the Willard? Stump could manage paying for his own fixin’s at the Willard now that he was working the carriage trade, that was for certain.
Stump was weaving and pressing forward, heading toward the Baltimore train; clinging to something, afraid of something. Stump liked to leave town at night, not in the morning. Why was he here now?
Well, none of this was Temple’s concern anyhow, was it? He had come to meet Augustus and Pint, secure their cargo, and get on his way. He needed the money, Augustus needed the money, and he would get his cargo even if his right leg continued to send flashes up his side.
Washington brimmed with the wounded and crippled, but Temple was probably the only twenty-five-year-old in the city who hadn’t earned his stumble in the war. And his cane—a thick, dark span of polished hickory—punctuated his limitation. Old before your time, Fiona would tease. He smiled to himself and sat down on a bench to stretch his leg while he waited.
Temple was pulling his timepiece from his waistcoat pocket when a shift in the patterns of the bristling swarm of it all made his head snap up and his eyes sharpen. A quiet, violent struggle was unfolding at the entrance to Stump’s train.
Two men were on either side of Stump, their hands on his shoulders. Another was in front of him. They were murmuring something to Stump, and from dozens of feet away their lips looked as thin and dark as pencil drawings. One of the men tried peeling off Stump’s coat and then spun him around, so Stump faced Temple. Stump’s eyes were cast downward. The courier was concentrating. Temple saw a flash of metal as Stump slid a stiletto from inside his sleeve. Then things stopped. Stump stopped. The men around Stump seemed to stop. For a moment, all of them looked like props on a stage set. Stump lurched forward and fell to the platform, dark blood spurting from a long slice on the side of his neck. The skin on Stump’s neck parted a bit more as he slumped, his eyes growing moony lickety-split and his fingers spidering up to his neck as if he were hoping he could just press the life back into his throat before it all poured out. As he flopped down to the ground, a greasy puddle of blood spread wide and silently as fog around Stump’s head and neck. His teeth pressed outward against his lips and his mouth tightened into a simian oval, fixed somewhere between surprise and the last, sharp twitchings of pain.
Temple pushed off the bench to his feet. Several other men rushed the group around Stump as people began screaming. A young soldier came running, his brogans smacking the ground and the edges of his blue coat flapping. As Temple scuttled toward Stump’s body, he collided with the soldier, who careened off him like a toy. Temple continued hip-hopping—damn my limp—toward Stump.
The group of men around Stump were fighting with one another now. They were all dandy, crisp white shirts and tailored black coats. Gentlemen didn’t do this, didn’t mix it up in gangs. Still, eight men and they were fighting like boys from his orphanage. Some of them had brass knuckles; one had a knife. One had a gun. As they scrapped, they moved a few feet away from Stump’s body, leaving the courier unattended. When Temple reached the body, he rolled it over and Stump’s coat flopped open, exposing the borders of a thick belt wrapped around his torso and swelling up from beneath his shirt. Temple popped the buttons and loosened the strap that was squeezing a brown paper package against Stump’s sternum. This was what made Stump so anxious, this little package. And now Stump’s life was oozing from a surgical tear across his throat, mucky with blood and already attracting flies. As Temple yanked the package from beneath the belt, a shadow slipped along the pavement next to Stump’s body.
One of the gents was standing over him and he had a long metal rod, of all things. “Leave it alone,” he said to Temple. “Take your hands off the package.”
Temple pulled out his detective’s badge, flat and heavy with an image of the Capitol building stamped upon it, but the gent ignored it, raised his rod, and sliced it down toward Temple’s neck.
Ah, well. Temple was grateful for his cane at times.
He swept his cane from the ground and blocked the rod; a few quick turns of his wrist and he spun the rod out of the gent’s hands. Still crouched, he whipped his cane across the gent’s knees and, as the man crumbled, Temple gave him a solid whack across the side of his head. He looked up at the group of men, who had parted and put down their knives and knuckles to consider him. The gent with the gun turned toward him and raised his pistol. He looked delighted, his eyes dancing beneath a high, sloping forehead. That one enjoys it, Temple thought. He enjoys killing.
“Corporal,” Temple shouted over his shoulder to the soldier. “I’m a Metropolitan Police detective. Charge that man.”
Good boy: He did as he was told. He raised his rifle, bayonet shining at the end of it, and shouted at the gent with the gun, telling him to disarm. The gent smiled, pointed his gun, and fired. One shot. The boy’s eyes widened in surprise and then he dropped like a sack, the black brim of his little blue cap crumpling behind his head. Temple drew a knife off his ankle and readied it, but now the men—as startled as everyone else in the station by the sound of a gunshot—scrambled, separated, and ran. Temple was alone with Stump, who, like the boy nearby, was limp and lifeless. And it would seem that everyone here today wanted the package more than they wanted poor Stump.
Temple loosened the package from the brown leather belt securing it to Stump’s torso and wondered: Take it in or open it now? Fiona says my sin is impatience. Temple tore open the package. There was a black leather diary and a smaller red leather journal that was also a date book for the previous year. The larger of the two was written in the small, careful script of a woman; the other, on long, narrow pages filled with exclamation points and long lines of discourse, was written by a man. Temple scanned the pages: “Mr. Lincoln” and “railroads” and “New York” appeared several times in the woman’s writings; “Lincoln” and “traitor” and “Lord War” in the man’s script. The man’s pages also contained another word, forcing Temple up on his cane: “assassination.”
His leg hurt. He jammed the pages into the tops of his boots—one set for each boot, everything in order—then hurried toward the B&O’s entrance to find a horse. Fiona said that theft was a sin, too, but on a morning already heavy with sin it didn’t rank with murder.
Temple had to press past throngs of people twirling toward the front of the station and away from the gunshots. He could hear a baby crying to his right, a man shouting for his wife to his left. A porter had come to a full stop and was sitting on two trunks he had been dragging toward the trains. He perched on the edge, surveying the calamity around him, and then pulled his hat down over his eyes, content to wait out the pandemonium. Temple hobbled around the porter and exited the station.
Temple was large and lanky and needed large horses. Weren’t many of those, ’cept for the mounts that the Army of the Potomac had. Rain was still coming down, but lighter now. First bit of luck today: a beautiful chestnut stallion, unflinching in the rain and tied to a post. Easy to spot. All of the horses that had been here earlier, and the crowd of soldiers, too, were gone. Remember that. Just this one, in the rain, waiting for him.
Temple untied the horse and it didn’t buck. He stuck his left foot in the stirrup, jammed his cane between his right hand and the pommel, and hoisted himself up, stretching his gimp leg behind himself as he swung it over the saddle. Beside the pommel, burned into the leather, were two large initials: L.B.
“You should have stayed inside until the rain stopped,” warned a voice to Temple’s right. “We wouldn’t want what you took off Stump to soak up the bad weather, would we?”
The gent who’d shot the young soldier was standing there, pointing a LeMat at Temple. Military revolver, but not a Colt. LeMats were dicey. Buckshot from the bottom barrel. The gent raised his gun toward Temple’s head, eyes gleaming (He likes it, Temple thought again, he likes killing), and pulled the trigger. The hammer fell, but no shot. The horse reared.
“Powder’s moist,” Temple said. “The rain. You have to mind the rain, friend. Damp pistolas mightn’t fire.”
“Bastard, get off my horse and let me have the damn package.”
The gent thrust his hand into the saddle and yanked a riding crop from it, then whipped Temple’s right thigh. The crop tore through his pants, blood came streaming through the tear, and a flash of pain seared his thigh.
The gent brought the crop down again, but Temple jammed his cane into the middle of the man’s forehead, and he stumbled back, dazed. Like billiards, Temple thought. Temple slapped the horse’s neck with his left hand and the stallion skittered sideways. He slapped it again, very hard, and the horse bucked wildly into the gent, throwing him to the ground. Temple gathered the reins and galloped off, up New Jersey.
The rain began to let up, and the sun broke through in a yellow, boiling burst.
From the Hardcover edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I'm a bit of a history buff. It isn't that know every date and the details of every era. It's that I WANT to know all of those things. Maybe buff isn't the right word...maybe history fan would be better. Because of my love of all things historical I was skeptical going into this book. A retelling of the murder of President Lincoln? Hmm, I don't know about that. Color me surprised! This was a great book. The characters were believable, the plot twists kept me guessing and there was plenty of suspense. I enjoyed the historical characters that pepper the story. They were inserted into the tale in an authentic way. The protagonist, Temple McFadden, was flawed and I liked him all the more for it. I enjoyed reading about his wife Fiona as well. She's a strong woman who doesn't need a man to rescue her every five minutes. If you like history, action, suspense and fine story telling you really ought to read this book. Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader
I really didn't hesitate and all when asked to join the blog tour for this book. I've always been a fan of Lincoln and I was curious how this might put a spin on his assassination. To be honest, this was a rather dry historical fiction. I didn't mind the characters, in fact I found Temple to be absolutely fascinating. I loved his background. He's not originally from American but he takes his dedication to his country seriously. Plus, I loved that he was smart as a fox and managed to outwit so many people in this book. I often didn't know what he was going to do next. I also loved that he had so many people that were willing to go the extra mile for him. They didn't need an explanation to justify it, they believed in him and what he stood for. Granted their cause was just and I think when the truth begins to trickle out they were even more willing to help. I found the truth used in this book to be interesting. I guess I don't know much about the building of the railroads at the time to say whether its a believable cause or not. I know the expansion was important and whoever owned the way to get there was in a dangerous position of control. I think I just expected a much deeper conspiracy. But, people have killed for less. I think I found this book dry because we spend a lot of time listening to characters talk. There were times, I would just skim over pages of dialogue because it felt like it didn't deepen the story any. It felt like it took a really long time to get to the point. I often felt this was more of a historical mystery than anything. Trying to piece together who was on who's side. Who was the mystery person that all the coded notes kept referring too. In the end I was a little disappointed. So really, it was just an average addition to the many book about Lincoln, both fiction and non fiction. Maybe those who understand Lincoln's involvement in the railroad will like this more than I did.
Did John Wilkes Booth act alone? Who was really behind Lincoln’s assassination? What about Mary Lincoln’s supposed “madness”? These questions and more are what set Temple McFadden and friends on what may well be a life-ending quest for some of them. The Lincoln Conspiracy is a very well-researched book that throws up a few theories to make us think in a year when there seems to be a much-renewed interest in Abraham Lincoln and his life. In this novel he doesn’t really appear as this is after the assassination. Temple, a police detective, acquires two small books: One is Mary Lincoln’s diary and one is mostly in code. Mrs. Lincoln’s diary is interesting and reveals more about her husband than was previously known. The other book? Well, that’s the one that is causing Temple all his problems. Temple’s friends and his wife decide to act. Fiona is to return the personal diary to Mrs. Lincoln. Temple, his friend Augustus (a freed slave) and more work to decipher the code using a system called the Vigenere table. What they find is most troubling. This book would make an excellent gift for the Lincoln fan. It shows a lot about post-Lincoln Washington and it’s surrounding area. It also shows the character of the people living there, which is more important. If you’re a history buff at all, you’ve got to read this.
This is a very entertaining book that revolves around the appearance of two diaries soon after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. One diary belongs to Mary Lincoln, the President's widow. The other is an encoded diary that belonged to John Wilkes Booth, the man who murdered President Lincoln. Both diaries contain information which could reveal truths not only about Lincoln, but also about those who plotted to kill him. They have the potential to rewrite what we know about history. Washington Metropolitan Police Detective Temple McFadden inadvertently secures the diaries while interrupting a fight between two gangs of unknown thugs. It turns out that both are after the same prize, although they have very different reasons for wanting the diaries. Temple starts to decode the Booth diary. In order to stay one step ahead of the two factions vying for control of the diaries, Temple joined by his wife, Fiona, must enlist the help of various friends, many of whom are recognizable historical characters. There is plenty of action and great descriptions of Washington, D.C. in the aftermath of the Lincoln assassination. A very good summer read. The book was provided for review by Library Thing and the well read folks at Ballantine Books.
Well written and a fun read
Slow but interesting.
Temple McFadden is a Washington Police Detective with a lame leg but a feisty spirit. His story begins with a trip to the train station to pick up a package, a trip that will help him earn some well-needed money. What he witnesses instead is a suspicious murder and his reaction is to grab a package secreted on the victim’s body. Here begins super trouble for Temple, his wife Fiona, and numerous other characters who will be chased, brutally attacked and escape death numerous times. Why? It turns out the package Temple grabbed is Mary Todd Lincoln’s diary and it contains secrets and hints of a conspiracy which would explain why Booth shot Lincoln and more! Was assassination the main goal? What exactly was the reason for Lincoln’s death if not the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves? Who were the most powerful men in Lincoln’s Cabinet and in Washington and what were their designs as well as actions mean to succeed no matter what the consequence? In addition to the slowly enfolding plot which includes a secret code and more shoot-out close calls – perhaps a bit too much, O’Brien introduces the readers to the ambience of the time through such scenes as medical conditions for those wounded warriors of the Civil War. We discover the primitive but successful treatments that saved and also ended lives. We also meet men loyal to Lincoln who worked for him or his Cabinet members but who had sideline plans for becoming wealthy after the Civil War ended. And there are the African-Americans who were loyal to the Union and now assist Temple in his drive to discover the truth, even more so after they are brutally treated in the most demeaning fashion possible. Their protection and belief in Temple is ennobling, to say the least, and inspiringly credible. Mary Todd Lincoln is portrayed in a most unexpected way which one may learn on doing research about her but which doesn’t prepare the reader for the self-absorbed, whining, suspicious and fearful woman who has more comfort from an unexpected source, one that stirs the reader to compassion. Whether or not you buy the final answers, The Lincoln Conspiracy is an interesting, action-packed story, giving the reader a fine sense of the culture, divisions, and political realities of Abraham Lincoln’s world! A worthy political thriller or conspiracy theory centered on an assassination without closure to this day!
This is a must read. Also Bill O'Reilly's Killing Lincoln is a must read. I am a history buff and home is Tenn. I do not believe J.W.B. was brought out of the burned barn. A "body" was but was burned beyond recognition. I think JWB lived out his days in Cuba. A man died in 1903 claiming to be JWB. Had Lincoln not been killed my South would not have gone thru the reconstruction and carpetbaggers it did. A hugh loss.
It definitely did not live up to the hype. The members of our book club all agreed the author is too taken with the minutia of his research. He overwhelms the reader with details, antiquated idioms and vernacular, and streetmap locations that not only fail to move the story along, but actually distract your attention from the plot. We decided he, too, must have been distracted because the plot and characters were weak. The ending barely qualified as one. We would not recommend this book to anyone.
Name: Fork <p> Gender: &male <p> Side: Villian/Bad/Dark/ [ insert desired thingy here ] <p> Things You Should Know About Him: <br> - Never, ever ask about his name. <br> - He never smiles. <br> - Fork is the master of snarking. <br> - If you really want to tick 'im off, tell him to be nicer and smile more. Ha. No. Neverrr. <br> - His weakness is water. <br> - Is part demon. <br> - He does not use weapons. <br> - He can become a suffocating dark fog, a ghost stallion, or a sleek black cat. <br> - Fork is deathly pale, and his eyes are a soulless cobalt. He wears a dark cloak, a thick sweater that is rarely seen, and leather-y jeans. Fork always wears glasses with thick frames. <p> That's all. I think. ^3^
Heyo, friend. I will always help you. :D <p> Name :: Rebecca 'Bunny' Hallows-Kane. <br> Also known as Becks. <p> Age :: Approximately 7 years old. <p> Gender :: Female. <p> Affiliation :: 'Bad'//Villain. <p> Appearance :: Close your eyes and imagine 'innocent little girl.' Bunny is kinda like that; she puts people at ease. She has shoulder-length blond corkscrew curls, brilliant emerald eyes, an equally mesmerizing cutesy smile with dimples and a gap between her front teeth. She's short and skinny, not bony, persay. Her attire compiles of pastel dresses, skirts, Mary Janes, sparkles, unicorns, you get the picture. [ This whole image makes me cringe. ] <p> Personality :: She has twooo. You have her fake personality, that she shows to people who need to be manipulated, and then her real one. <br> Numero Uno! The Public Appearance - Y'know, a little girl. Innocent, that kind of kid that says really random stuff, but it ends up being cute, very admiring of adults, whatever that gets her what she wants. <br> Numero Dos! The Demon Inside :3 - Inside, Bunny is always really disgusted with the rest of the world. Her partners in crime, the masses, everyone except herself. She thinks she's perfect and very sane - though she likes to gripe to her stuffed-animal bunny about how st<_>upid everyone else is. Her dream of a perfect world is her on the throne. She's very cranky, demanding, stubborn as all he<_>ll, and scarily violent. <p> I think that should cover it. Bai.