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From the best-selling author of The Emperor of Ocean Park and New England White, a daring reimagining of one of the most tumultuous moments in our nation’s past
Stephen L. Carter’s thrilling new novel takes as its starting point an alternate history: President Abraham Lincoln survives the assassination attempt at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. Two years later he is charged with overstepping his constitutional authority, both during and after the Civil War, and faces an impeachment trial . . .
Twenty-one-year-old Abigail Canner is a young black woman with a degree from Oberlin, a letter of employment from the law firm that has undertaken Lincoln’s defense, and the iron-strong conviction, learned from her late mother, that “whatever limitations society might place on ordinary negroes, they would never apply to her.” And so Abigail embarks on a life that defies the norms of every stratum of Washington society: working side by side with a white clerk, meeting the great and powerful of the nation, including the president himself. But when Lincoln’s lead counsel is found brutally murdered on the eve of the trial, Abigail is plunged into a treacherous web of intrigue and conspiracy reaching the highest levels of the divided government.
Here is a vividly imagined work of historical fiction that captures the emotional tenor of post–Civil War America, a brilliantly realized courtroom drama that explores the always contentious question of the nature of presidential authority, and a galvanizing story of political suspense.
“A novel that is as epic and full of turns as the Civil War itself. . . . Carter writes with a gentle elegance of the trauma in the streets and parlors of Washington as Americans grapple with the lingering tragedy of the war, the assassination attempt, and the impeachment. . . . There are really two interesting and parallel stories here: One is a meticulously laid-out courtroom drama. . . . The other is a Grisham-style caper involving the improbable ascension of a gung-ho, young middle-class black woman named Abigail Canner. . . . Carter’s cool style gives the novel a breezy accessibility.” —Tyrone Beason, Seattle Times
“A delightful novel. . . . Carter, [by] making Abigail Canner the protagonist through whose eyes one sees much of the story, shows us life in the nation’s capital, the epicenter of the victorious North, as lived by its black population. That perspective is rich, rare, and almost certainly well-researched. . . . There is also considerable drama, including murder and nighttime chases, to the extent that I found myself mentally casting what I consider would be a super movie. . . . The book kept me up late, reading as fast as I can.” —Dan Simpson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“The novel excels at drawing a vivid picture of Washington City (as it was then known), halfway between its origins as fetid swampland and the bureaucratic metropolis of today. . . . As a character, Abigail Canner is perfectly positioned to provide the reader with access to every social strata. . . . She is a proud, resourceful, intelligent heroine. . . . A fascinating hypothetical and an impressively imagined look at the legal, political, and personal ramifications of a time in American history when lofty principles and petty concerns battled for pride of place in the national consciousness. Sounds rather familiar.” —Marc Mohan, The Oregonian
“Superb. . . . Carter does many things at once–and does them as effortlessly (so it appears) as Usain Bolt coasting to victory. He teases out the implications of his scenario with a deep knowledge of Lincoln’s time. He tells a page-turning tale of historical espionage. For lovers of the trial-narrative (I am one), he has riches to bestow: the courtroom is the Senate Chamber. And he continues his ongoing fictional history of ‘the darker nation.’. . . [In Abigail Canner,] Carter gives us a nuanced character who is very much of her time and place–and the more real for it–even as she challenges assumptions right and left. . . . I’m reminded why I read fiction in the first place, and why a new book by Stephen Carter is always to be celebrated.” —John Wilson, Books & Culture: A Christian Review
“Carter writes a likely and intriguing scenario. . . . His use of rich, authentic dialogue and graphic descriptions of Washington City give authority to his work.” —Mary Popham, Louisville Courier-Journal
“An engaging historical what-if. . . . Provides an intriguing look at race and politics in 19th-century America with relevancies that still echo today.” —Dean Poling, Valdosta Daily Times
“A crackling good read. . . . Carter gives us a gripping portrait of Lincoln. . . . He evokes a capital city that’s considerably grubbier–the streets awash in mud, the newspapers even more so—than the imperial showplace we know today. But in other ways, this carefully textured portrait is deeply familiar to Beltway insiders, replete with salons seething with catty gossip and powerful pols angling for yet more power. Best of all is the light Carter shines on a slice of Washington life that remains obscure to many Americans to this day: the black middle class of the mid-19th century, represented here in the trim and perspicacious person of the book’s surprising sleuth, Abigail Canner . . . a black Nancy Drew with the weight of history on her shoulders.” —Kevin Nance, Chicago Tribune
“A rich blend of murder mystery, legal thriller, courtroom drama, and period piece featuring some of the historical figures of the time. What elevates Impeachment above most alternative history is how Carter charts the cross currents of race, class, and society in the raucous capital.” —Frank Davies, Miami Herald
“There’s a lot going on in this big, smart book: Carter raises important questions about governing during wartime and in peace, and he interrogates the motivations behind impeachment in general. Lofty legal arguments coincide with a grittier plot involving murder, the demimonde, and a mysterious list of possible anti-Lincoln conspirators. Romantic complications abound. But what makes the novel so vastly entertaining is the author’s sharp skewering of politicians, lawyers, and the monied social class that runs Washington.” —Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe
“Carter lays out a fascinating What-If plot.” —Harry Levins, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“A thrilling courtroom drama.” —Trenae V. McDuffie, PhillyTrib.com
“Carter makes the setting seem true, creating as real an immediate postwar Washington as Gore Vidal’s wartime Washington in Lincoln. He has also created an interesting Zelig-like character in the free young black woman Abigail Canner.” —Alan Cheuse, San Francisco Chronicle
“Freed Black men, gangs of evil White men, and crafty politicians come alive in this work. Fluidly written, the pages fly by, leaving you with a feeling that this really could have happened.” —Adrienne Samuels Gibbs, Ebony magazine
“Abigail is a wonderful creation. . . . Carter writes in the naturalistic school of Theodore Dreiser. His strength lies in capturing the subtle nuances of social interaction between blacks and whites.” —David Keymer, Library Journal
“[T]he best legal thriller so far this year. . . . I’ve liked Carter’s four previous forays into fiction. This one, I loved.” —Patrik Henry Bass, Essence Magazine
“Washington readers will get a kick out of comparing Carter’s vivid portrait of late-19th-century DC with the city they know today. . . . But the best thing about sitting down with this rich, often thrilling novel is watching its alternative history unfold.” —John Wilwol, The Washingtonian
“[T]he streets come alive in his vision of Washington. . . . Carter’s tale comes to a conclusion as thrilling and untidy as the actual events that unfolded during the turbulent postwar years.” —Andrew Dunn, Bloomberg.com
“With an encyclopedic command of period detail . . . Carter has created an entertaining story rooted in the legal, political and racial conflicts of 19th-century America. . . . Carter’s delight in all this material is infectious. He’s a fantastic legal dramatist, and there’s the constant pleasure of seeing his creation of Washington City in 1867, alive with sounds and smells. . . . History buffs can test their mettle by trying to unwind Carter’s entangling of fact and fiction, but anyone should enjoy this rich political thriller that dares to imagine how events might have ricocheted in a different direction after the Civil War.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“A smart and engaging what-if that has the virtue of being plausible. . . . Abigail makes for a grandly entertaining sleuth.” —Kirkus Reviews
“This novel has all the juicy stew of post—Civil War Washington, with the complexities of race, class, and sex mixed in. Carter draws on historical documents and a vivid imagination to render a fascinating mix of murder mystery, political thriller, and courtroom drama. . . . Imaginatively conceived.” —Vanessa Bush, Booklist (starred)