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Non-Fiction Monday: Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson (audio)
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1 Playaway self-contained MP3 player (4 hours). Read by Will Patton. Scholastic Press, 2009. 
194 p. Scholastic Press, February, 2009

This narrative reads like a thriller and literally starts with a bang on the title page, where a reproduction of part of the front page of The Daily Citizen's article covering the assassination dominates. The CIP information does not appear on the verso. Instead, the verso is the dedication page. Now, that's not all that unusual. It's the photograph that the dedication is superimposed over that is unusual - a photo of Lewis Powell, Seward's would-be assassin and Booth's co-conspirator, in irons, looking rather defiant. Definitely attention-getting and sort of creepy!

I did not see all this when I first read the title because I read it with my ears. I must make a mental note to read the photos and back-matter of non-fiction that I read with my ears, first. When I read non-fiction with my eyes, I usually start by reading the illustrations, photos and maps and then got back to read the narrative straight through. I was more than halfway through Will Patton's excellent narration when I realized that I was mixing the players up. Since I was listening via a playaway, I could not backtrack so easily. Instead, I found the book on my tbr pile, reread sections and studied the photographic reproductions along the way. 

Even though the reader may already know how Booth eluded escape for 12 days, the almost moment-by-moment narration that zips around the various co-conspirators builds suspense. It can, however, be a bit confusing and cause some rereading, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The book begins with a cast of characters, of sorts, which is totally fitting, since Booth was an actor. Swanson also provides a good deal of historical context. 

The book is gorgeously designed, small-ish, as non-fiction goes, with a brown font color that is not quite sepia, but coordinates beautifully with the archival photos and reproductions of engravings, maps, and news headlines. And there are many. Some of the illustrations might have benefited from a more oversized presentation; but the small size lends a sort of novel feel to the narrative.

I will echo others in expressing frustration over the lack of source notes in what is apparently impeccably 
researched material. (This is apparently an adaptation of an adult title for a YA audience.) I do not understand this omission. When I am drawn into a work of non-fiction so completely, the first thing I do when I finish, is to look for the source notes and suggestions for further reading. I want to learn more! Secondly, my colleagues and I, the middle school librarian, constantly reinforce the necessity to cite sources. I try to model it by citing in my PowerPoint slides where applicable. I teach students to look at the resources cited in informational literature.

A note at the beginning of the book states that the story is true and that all the words appearing in quotation marks are true. Then, goes on to say that they were culled from a variety of primary sources. Well. Okay. What are they? Our students know what primary documents are. Indeed, they occasionally are required to search out primary source documents in assignments thanks to the digitization of many.

While I have gotten a bit snarky, I don't want anyone thinking that I did not love this book. If I had the time, I would reread it. I will recommend it. It is an important addition to school and public libraries. I am now inspired to read another book about Booth as a result. Can anyone guess which one that might be?