Sunday Burgs book review
Review by: Allison Long of Newport, Virginia.
In 1861, President Lincoln’s diary went missing and was never found. Because it was lost, historians never knew such a diary existed. Then Peter Fallon receives an e-mail from ex-girlfriend Diana Wilmington, history professor at George Washington University. The e-mail attachment is a scan of a new letter from Abraham Lincoln to a young lieutenant named Halsey Hutchinson, mentioning a missing “something.” From there the story is told in two parts, in the present day and through the eyes of Hutchinson, the young lieutenant in the War Telegraph office who, in 1862, ran into some “personal troubles.” What follows is a treasure hunt in two eras.
The book would be stronger if the story followed only the Civil War plot.The characters Martin creates for this storyline are more compelling, the struggles are more dimensional than the current day parallel the book presents. Halsey Hutchinson is a wounded man with a cushy job when readers are first introduced to him. From a well-connected family, he serves his country in the War Telegraph office and escorts the president back to the White House every night after the dispatches come in. He has a sweetheart at home in Boston and has recently caught the eye of Constance Wood, a New York senator’s niece. Then President Lincoln leaves his diary in the telegraph office, Hutchinson finds it and circumstances prevent the diary’s return, then the diary is stolen. From there, the real story begins. Hutchinson must distinguish whom to trust in an ever shifting world and he finds help in the form of Noah Bone, the shoeshine and Mother Freedom, whose sons empty outhouses.
Meanwhile, Diana Wilmington’s e-mail is hacked. Evangeline Carrington, Peter Fallon’s girlfriend (and ex-fiancee), travels to Washington, D.C., to film a Civil War history series and on the way meets suspicious characters on the train. Fallon travels down because the mystery is building and he is still reeling from his recent marriage that wasn’t.
This isn’t the first novel in which Peter Fallon makes an appearance, and there is something to be said for a recurring literary figure. Take Sherlock Holmes, for example. In “The Lincoln Letter,” Fallon and his posturing detract from the interesting detail of the historic mystery. Peter Fallon sees himself as Indiana Jones, but in reality, he’s Nicolas Cage. He would be a likeable character if he didn’t try so hard. The modern storyline of the book comes off as too preachy and too macho. Peter Fallon has no friend that isn’t attractive, physically fit and fairly well-connected. As the web grows tighter and the players of drama move in conveniently small circles, Fallon and friends rebuff every obstacle with sarcasm and muscle, eat hamburgers constantly and pontificate on the evils of politics. In short, even their enemies respect them, which undermines the danger and suspense that should be present when big money, big guns and death threats are involved. The redeeming grace of the modern storyline is characters like Dawkins and Bryant, two entertaining market dealers who lend credibility by being average. Another benefit to the modern day twist is the opportunity for readers to discover what happened to the families of Mother Freedom and Noah Bone. Everything else is just a mediocre action story.
Martin aims for high standards with “The Lincoln Letter.” The double storyline is ambitious, but ultimately falls flat. The novel tries to say too much without ever saying anything at all. Martin would do better to stick with historical fiction without wrapping it inside a modern day political thriller. Peter Fallon fans may disagree, but “The Lincoln Letter” will likely not win over any new fans.
Learn more about Lincoln by visiting the display called Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War at the Newman Library, Virginia Tech.
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