Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Abe Lincoln and Joshua Speed Star in Perish From the Earth

When I saw that Doris Kearns Goodwin enjoyed Jonathan F. Putman's first Lincoln and Speed mystery novel, I decided to request the second in the series, Perish From the Earth. The idea of a mystery involving circuit court lawyer Abe Lincoln and his bunkmate Joshua Speed intrigued me.

The action takes place in St. Louis in 1837, at a time when Abolitionists were considered radical lawbreakers.


Joshua Speed, our narrator, accepts slavery although he is disturbed by scenes of abuse. Abe supports it as constitutional but hopes that it will be phased out over time.

1837 saw the inauguration of Martin Van Buren and the Panic of 1837, a financial crisis. Oberlin College became the first in the nation to accept female students. (Michigan also became a state!)

Speed is on the War Princess, a Mississippi paddleboat owned by his father, investigating why it has not been a profitable venture. While he is on board, a man goes missing and his body is afterward found by Speed and Lincoln. A rival in love, the artist George Bingham, is accused of his murder and Lincoln agrees to represent him in court.

As Speed and his intrepid sister Martha investigate, the reader learns about American society at the time: slavery, plantation life, abolition, the newfangled justice and prison system, and life on a paddleboat.

Events and persons are based in history. A mob murders an abolitionist newspaperman, based on the real Elijah Lovejoy. Other characters drawn from history include the gambler Devon, George Bingham, and persons in the legal system. Likewise taken from history is the prison in Alton. Robert E. Lee shows up, managing a project for the War Department's Engineering Corps.

Lincoln had a deep commitment to the law and an abhorrence of mob rule. We see Lincoln as a trial lawyer, employing his gift of storytelling and turning his failures into successes.

I liked the characters and enjoyed the vivid descriptions that brought the historical time period to life. Everything felt probable and in keeping with what we know of Lincoln. This was an enjoyable read.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.


Jonathan F. Putnam is a writer and attorney. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, he is a nationally renowned trial lawyer and avid amateur Lincoln scholar. He currently lives with his family in London, England. This is his second Lincoln and Speed mystery following These Honored Dead.

Perish from the Earth: A Lincoln and Speed Mystery
Jonathan F. Putnam
Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: July 11, 2017
$25.99 hardcover
ISBN: 9781683311393