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A Shadow of Hope
New "Historical Novel" Shines a Light on Little-Known Story of the Lincoln Assassination
The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865 stands as one of the most notable events in American history. The story has been repeated so many times, in so many different contexts, that it’s tough to believe there could be any stone left unturned. We know the victim, the assassin (John Wilkes Booth), the play (Our American Cousin), and the venue (Ford’s Theatre, in Washington, D.C.). We know the historical trivia of it all (Lincoln was the first president to be assassinated) and the dramatic story (a broader assassination plot, Booth’s grand escape, and the 12-day manhunt that ended in his death).
Yet, despite everything we know about President Lincoln’s death, author Pamela Bauer Mueller has found a way to give the story a new dimension with her new book, A Shadow of Hope.
A Shadow of Hope is billed as a “historical novel,” but not as historical fiction. Mueller’s strategy as an author is to take fascinating, overlooked tales from history and turn them into living, breathing worlds of prose. For instance, her 2010 novel, Splendid Isolation, told the story of the Jekyll Island Millionaires’ Club, an exclusive annual gathering of influential men—such as Rockefeller, Pulitzer, and Vanderbilt—that ran from 1888 to 1942. A Shadow of Hope, meanwhile, is the story of Dr. Samuel Mudd, a man who found himself tangled up in the Lincoln assassination story by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As Mueller tells it, Dr. Samuel Mudd was “a simple country doctor” who was awoken early in the morning on April 15, 1865 by a loud knock at his door. One of the men at the door had a broken leg, supposedly from an accident involving his horse. Mudd invited the men into his house and attended to the broken leg of the injured patient. Of course, the “patient” turned out to be John Wilkes Booth himself, who had injured his leg in a leap from the balcony to the stage at Ford’s Theatre.
In the wake of the assassination, dozens of supposed “conspirators” were rounded up and questioned, including Mudd. Most of these suspects were deemed innocent and released. Mudd was not so lucky. The doctor was one of eight co-conspirators tried by military tribunal for their connections to Booth and the Lincoln assassination. All eight were found guilty. Four were sentenced to death. Mudd avoided that fate by a single vote, but still earned a sentence of life in prison.
Mueller’s prose puts you in the middle of Mudd’s story. A few prologue chapters retell the assassination story for the umpteenth time, but A Shadow of Hope comes to life a few chapters in when Mudd becomes the narrator. From the shock of realizing that his late-night patient killed the President of the United States to the trials in front of a military commission, all the way to Mudd’s lengthy imprisonment, the book tells the tale of a good man whose life was derailed by circumstances beyond his control. A Shadow of Hope feels especially instructive and prescient now, when governmental injustices are coming to the forefront with every passing day. Mueller’s seamless storytelling and deep understanding of the topic at hand shows us that the government’s habit for robbing its citizens of liberty has always been there.
More than just being an account of governmental injustice, though, A Shadow of Hope is also a celebration of human resilience in the darkest places. Mudd’s prison sentence earned him a (supposed) one-way ticket to Fort Jefferson, a fortress and prison in the Florida Keys. Yellow Fever broke out on the island in 1867, killing many prisoners and claiming the life of Fort Jefferson’s doctor. Mudd took over the role and worked to slow the spread of the disease and treat infected patients—even though many of the patients were the soldiers and guards who were also his jailers. Fort Jefferson soldiers signed a petition praising Mudd for saving many lives and asking President Johnson for his pardon. Mudd would eventually get a pardon, but not until 1869.
Pamela Bauer Mueller writes A Shadow of Hope like a journal. The book offers vivid day-by-day accounts of Mudd’s story, covering everything of note that happened between the Lincoln assassination and Mudd’s 1869 pardon. Mueller’s research is remarkable, drawing from every resource possible—including existing memoirs and historical documents, such as diaries and letters—to flesh out the story completely. The result is a “historical novel” that never reads like a history book. With fluid prose, sharp dialogue, and a subject that truly deserves the spotlight, A Shadow of Hope is engaging, smart, and accomplished.
Click here to find A Shadow of Hope on Amazon, in both eBook and paperback versions.
Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In addition to writing for IndependentPublisher.com, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for Rockfreaks.net and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.