By Kate Clifford Larson
Basic Books, $16.99, 263 pages
Did you know that the first woman to be executed by the federal government was Mary Surratt, a suspected conspirator in the plot to kill President Lincoln? The primary name associated with Lincoln’s death is John Wilkes Booth. His actions at Ford’s Theatre and his attempted escape are the story most Americans learn about the assassination. Historian and professor Kate Clifford Larson hopes to change that as people read her new book The Assassin’s Accomplice. The book consists of ten chapters that take readers through Mary’s upbringing, marriage, family life, and focuses on her activities during the time before and after the death of President Lincoln. The book does read like a story and would be better suited in the Historical Fiction section rather than History. The first half is made up of Larson’s guesswork. She has pieced together context clues to predict what Mary did or did not do as a conspirator. Larson uses available primary sources (including police documents and court transcripts) to tell the story post-assassination which reads more smoothly. Regardless, Larson sets the scene well and has brought an important part of history to light.