Book Review: The Roots of an Assassin

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Review by Robert McCool

Sometimes a book comes along that captures and holds my interest until it’s finished. Whether it’s a story, a plot, or a writing skill, I get dragged in and every other activity I do fades away because I’m hooked on the book.

Booth (Random House, ISBN 978-0-593-55649-8) is Karen Joy Fowler’s 2022 release and second novel. (His first novel is We are all completely beside ourselves). The well-written history is a meticulous glimpse into the past before Abraham Lincoln was killed in cold blood by John Wilkes Booth.

The entire Booth family was theatrical, from John’s famous father to the other adult male children who survived their childhoods with Junius and “Mother” Booth. Junius was a Shakespearean lead actor who performed on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and even in Australia. His shows were watched by the whole spectrum of society and praised, until he began to miss curtains because he was drunk and was sometimes imprisoned due to drunken bouts on the road. . Together, Junius and Mother had ten children, five of whom reached adulthood.

Junius already had a wife when he married Mother. The woman claimed that alimony was owed to her. She remained close to the Booth family throughout their trials and tribulations, never letting them forget that she was Junius’ first wife.

Booth’s men all eventually went to the theater and rose to fame on their own. John Wilkes, as the youngest, was the last to join the family business and also won acclaim for himself.

The story is set in the early rumblings before the Civil War, follows Lincoln’s rise from the start of his career – with quotes included throughout – and his presidency during the war and the end of it.

So what prompted John Wilkes Booth to do what he did? What evil engine drove it? He was a Confederate believer who wanted to do something to make him famous around the world. The consequences of his actions are still horrifying and harmful today. It’s no wonder his remaining family was nearly killed because of his last name.

I really like this book. It covers a wide period of time and includes the emancipation of slaves and follows them into the era of Jim-Crow laws, when freedom still meant being treated as sub-human by white society.

I hope readers will take the time to engage with this book. It is really worth it.

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