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Final Resting Place: A Lincoln and Speed Mystery


Final Resting Place: A Lincoln and Speed Mystery

For those who enjoy historical fiction and have yet to delve into the Lincoln & Speed Mystery series, you are in for a treat. I love history and have always had a fondness for U.S. presidential history and trivia. All of my expectations have been met by Jonathan F. Putnam, who, as an attorney and Harvard graduate, really knows his stuff.

FINAL RESTING PLACE is the third entry in the series and takes place in the year 1838. Our heroes are 29-year-old Abraham Lincoln and his best friend, Joshua Speed. Lincoln is an attorney at the time and will be squaring off in the courtroom against his rival, Stephen A. Douglas. Douglas is the polar opposite of Lincoln in many ways. Not only is he quite small --- an American version of Napoleon Bonaparte --- he is a spirited debater with a booming voice, a stark contrast to Lincoln's tall stature and far more tempered voice.

"These novels are historical fiction at their finest, calling to mind Caleb Carr's THE ALIENIST and the works of Stefanie Pintoff and Lyndsay Faye.... FINAL RESTING PLACE may be the most personal and serious installment of the series thus far..."

Speed, the narrator, is the son of a wealthy plantation owner who runs a general store. He and his sister, Martha, spend much of the novel seeking out the truth on behalf of Lincoln, who is mired in both the trial and his own torment. What starts with a series of letters to the publication known as The Democrat, simply signed “S.G.”, grows into a much larger conflagration of hate, and the primary target appears to be Lincoln. When Jacob Early approaches Lincoln during a Fourth of July celebration, his attempt to speak with him about an issue concerning the land office is drowned out by the celebratory fireworks --- followed by the sound of a gunshot that takes Early's life before they are able to complete their discussion.

The foppish Henry Truett is arrested and charged with Early's murder. Truett maintains vehemently that he did not do it and then surprises everyone when he requests that Lincoln defend him. Of course, the opposing counsel is Douglas, which sets things up nicely for a literary courtroom showdown. It turns out it is not that simple. Truett not only confesses his innocence but indicates that the actual villain here is none other than Lincoln’s own father, Thomas. There is no love lost between father and son, and there is much about Lincoln’s family history that he would like to bury along with Early’s body.

Thomas and his stepson, John Johnston, do their part to strike back and attempt to smear Lincoln in the court of public opinion. When it turns out that Early was trying to make Lincoln aware of falsification of public land records, things begin to point in Thomas’ direction. From then on, it is one blow after another that slowly eats away at Lincoln, driving him into a sullen solitary cocoon. He misses a court date on his case due to a false note telling him to go elsewhere. A close friend, Margaret Owens, dies horrifically from poisoning. And then comes the biggest blow of all. Speed and his sister travel to New Salem, 20 miles from Springfield, IL, where they believe the author of the letters to The Democrat resides. They eventually find a man named John Rutledge, who claims that Lincoln killed his sister, Ann.

Although Rutledge's accusations are mostly without proof or merit, the fact that he is voicing such a statement will weigh heavy upon Lincoln's reputation, potentially doing permanent harm to his own political aspirations. When Rutledge takes the Speeds to the meager burial site, Ann’s final resting place, it is indeed a sobering moment regardless of who was responsible for her death. Douglas also takes the opportunity to smear Lincoln, telling those present at a public debate that his rival was never one to let the facts get in the way of a clever argument.

FINAL RESTING PLACE continues on towards the finale, never losing steam or failing to keep the reader in suspense the entire way. It will take everything Speed has to help pull his friend out of the downward spiral that surrounds him and get to the bottom of the mystery that started with Early's death and ends up hitting way too close to home. The court scenes alone are worth the price of admission.

These novels are historical fiction at their finest, calling to mind Caleb Carr's THE ALIENIST and the works of Stefanie Pintoff and Lyndsay Faye. The Lincoln here is not chasing vampires as other speculative fiction has represented in recent years. This is the Lincoln most of us don't know --- a young man still learning, making mistakes and seeking to be a good person who can make a difference, both to himself and for his country. FINAL RESTING PLACE may be the most personal and serious installment of the series thus far, and I am eager to see what Putnam has in store for us next.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on August 3, 2018

Final Resting Place: A Lincoln and Speed Mystery
by Jonathan F. Putnam