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Hanging Mary by Susan Higginbotham: A Book Review

Hanging Mary
Author: Susan Higginbotham
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: March 15, 2016
Pages: 402
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: The untold story of Lincoln's Assassination

     1864, Washington City. One has to be careful with talk of secession, of Confederate whispers falling on Northern ears. Better to speak only when in the company of the trustworthy. Like Mrs. Surratt.

     A widow who runs a small boardinghouse on H Street, Mary Surratt isn't half as committed to the cause as her son, Johnny. If he's not delivering messages or escorting veiled spies, he's invited home men like John Wilkes Booth, the actor who is even more charming in person than he is on the stage.

     But when President Lincoln is killed, the question of what Mary knew becomes more important than anything else. Was she a cold-blooded accomplice? Just how far would she go to help her son?

     Based on the true case of Mary Surratt, Hanging Mary reveals the untold story of those on the other side of the assassin's gun.

     My Review: Mary Surratt was a woman who was involved in the conspiracy of Lincoln’s assassination and was the first woman to be executed by the U.S. government. She was also the person who had the chance to save Abraham Lincoln. Even though she knew about the conspiracy, she did not alert the authorities. However, despite her notoriety, there are very few details as to her motives. In this historical novel, Mary Surratt is allowed to tell her own story, and to the motives of why she held her tongue as Booth made his decision to assassinate President Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre.

     The story is told from the viewpoints of both Mary Surratt and her boarder, Nora. I did not really like these two protagonists. I found them both unsympathetic. They each seemed very emotionally-detached, and Mary up until she was hanged seemed passive. There was not really much information as to Mary’s motives for it was hardly discussed. Throughout the novel, Mary never fully realized the depth of the crime she had committed, nor was she repentant. She never felt the guilt that she had help murder President Lincoln, nor was she sorry about the victim. All she thought about was herself. She was also a bad parent, for if she was a good parent, she would have held her son, who was part of the conspiracy, to be held for accountable of his actions. Therefore, this woman was not a likable character and never fully realized the consequences of her actions.

     Overall, this book is supposed to be an in-depth psyche of a complex woman, yet I found this woman to be very distant to the reader. She still seemed to keep her secrets, for instance, the motive of why she decided to aid John Wilkes Booth. I really did not like any of the characters in this book, and they never seemed very well-rounded. This book was very slow, boring, and tedious. In the first half, hardly anything happens. They just discuss the tedious everyday details of their life. The only interesting parts were the trial and the execution, but it happens near the the end of the book. I recommend this book if you love reading about Lincoln’s assassinations and political conspiracies. However, I suggest that you skip this for there are better books about Lincoln’s assassination out there. You will not be missing anything in this novel because nothing happens that is not already stated in history books.


Rating 2½ out  of 5 stars

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