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Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War (audiobook) by Daniel Stashower

Published by Macmillan Audio in 2013.
Read by Edoardo Ballerini
Duration: 13 hours, 45 minutes

A photo of Allan Pinkerton (1819-1884)
taken circa 1861.
Most history books mention the plot to kill Lincoln as he was travelling to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration in February of 1861 with just a sentence or two, if they mention it at all. This is unfortunate because a more in-depth look like this book provides can give the reader a real feel for the fluidity of the situation when Lincoln took office.

Daniel Stashower's The Hour of Peril begins with a solid biography of Pinkerton's life (about 2 hours or so) that may just be the most interesting part of the book. The book eventually moves into a discussion of the Presidential election of 1860 and the Secession Crisis that Lincoln faced as President-elect, including the danger that both Maryland and Virginia would secede and leave the capital of the United States, Washington, D.C. to be surrounded by two Confederate states.

On top of that, Lincoln almost had to travel through Baltimore to get to Washington, D.C. and he would have to switch trains and travel through downtown Baltimore on foot or in a carriage. That would leave Lincoln exposed to various groups of "plug-uglies" that had sworn oaths to kill him before he could be sworn in as President.

Various groups had heard of these plots, including the military, various Congressional committees and a railroad man who asked Pinkerton to send some detectives in to infiltrate these groups. Strangely, the New York City Police Department under a man named John Kennedy also sent men to investigate and they also found plenty of evidence that organized groups of men were out to assassinate Lincoln while he traveled through Baltimore.

While the background information was told quite well, the book bogs down as the story nears the date of Lincoln's trip through Baltimore. It is hard to maintain any sense of tension since the reader/listener knows all to well that Lincoln did not die in Baltimore in 1861. The book slowed down to a crawl as the minute details of a midnight train ride are doled out. Edoardo Ballerni's soothing voice, while perfect for catching Lincoln's wry sense of humor throughout most of the book, did little to enliven the second half of the book with its density of details.

Despite the slow ending, the first half of the book was so well-told and so interesting that I am still giving this book 4 out of 5 stars.

The audiobook includes an interview with the author at the end of the that is essentially a twenty minute re-hash of the early biography of Pinkerton and a summary of the plot(s) to kill Lincoln. Sadly, it offers little or nothing new to the listener except the opportunity to hear the enthusiasm that Stashower has for his subject.

Reviewed on April 20, 2013.

Note: I received this audiobook from the publisher at no cost to me as part of the Audiobook Jukebox Solid Gold Reviewer program  in exchange for an honest review.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Hour of Peril.

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