cover image The Murder of Willie Lincoln: A John Hay Mystery

The Murder of Willie Lincoln: A John Hay Mystery

Burt Solomon. Forge, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7653-8583-3

An original plot, plausible characterizations of historical figures, and solid prose combine to make this historical fiction debut, from a contributing editor for the Atlantic, a winner. In 1862, early on in the Civil War, President Lincoln is devastated by the death, apparently from typhoid fever, of his 11-year-old son, Willie. Hay, the president’s assistant private secretary, finds he must compound Lincoln’s grief when he gets an indication that Willie may actually have been murdered. Someone managed to get access to Hay’s office to insert an anonymous note in his satchel, which references the biblical figure of Barabbas having “committed murder in the insurrection.” The president authorizes Hay to conduct a secret investigation, and the aide soon discovers evidence that typhus was not the cause of Willie’s death. Solomon incorporates obscure but relevant facts—such as the fraud scheme Mary Todd Lincoln got involved with—and deftly makes well-known figures such as General George McClellan and Allan Pinkerton come to life, before building to a surprising final reveal. Solomon’s storytelling abilities will make fans of the genre hope for a John Hay sequel. (Feb.)