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The First Assassin Paperback – October 29, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Book Description: Winter 1861: the United States teeters on the brink of civil war. In Washington, D.C., Colonel Charles P. Rook is tapped to organize the district’s security and to protect president-elect Abraham Lincoln from the death threats pouring in to the White House. He surrounds the president with bodyguards and fills the city’s rooftops with sharpshooters, diligently investigating the conspiracies being fomented with increasing intensity by Southern secessionists. Yet amidst the chaos and confusion, a foreigner slips unnoticed into the teeming city. Hired by a wealthy Southern planter to eliminate President Lincoln and destroy the Union once and for all, the assassin catches Rook’s attention by cutting down anyone who gets in his way. As the bodies begin to pile up, Rook realizes he is caught in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with a cold-blooded killer who will stop at nothing to complete his mission. Rook’s only hope is Portia, a runaway slave who holds the key to the assassin’s identity—if she can stay alive long enough to deliver it. Packed with dynamic characters, rich period detail, and a chillingly sinister villain, The First Assassin is a riveting thriller for fans of historical fiction.
Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with John J. Miller

Question: What initially inspired you to write The First Assassin?

John J. Miller: I’m a fan of thrillers and wanted to try to write one. The backdrop of Washington, D.C. in 1861, just as the Civil War was getting underway, seemed like an excellent setting for the right kind of plot. Once I had the idea for a story about a mysterious hitman who tries to murder Abraham Lincoln at the start of his presidency, The First Assassin became a book that I was determined to write.

Question: What other authors or books have influenced your writing?

John J. Miller: Frederick Forsyth. Among thriller writers, he’s the king. I’m also an admirer of Robert Harris, Ken Follett, Charles McCarry, Philip Kerr, Dan Simmons, Bernard Cornwell, and many others. This could be a long list.

Question: Your fellow author Robert Ferrigno has proclaimed that "there’s not a false note in the whole book." What kind of research did you do ensure historical accuracy in your historical novel?

John J. Miller: I’m a Civil War buff who grew up reading my fellow Michigan native Bruce Catton as well as many other historians. That experience provided a lot of background knowledge that’s just warehoused in my head. To write The First Assassin, however, I had to learn a lot of specifics. I made regular treks to the Library of Congress which, for many years, was right across the street from my office. What did the White House look like in 1861? Where was Washington’s seediest neighborhood? How did ordinary people respond to the fall of Fort Sumter? There are answers to all of these questions and I tracked them down in half-forgotten books and old newspapers on microfilm. My goal was to tell an exciting story that’s fictional--but one that also feels authentic, true to its time and place.

Question: Is there a character in the book you most identify with or admire? Why?

John J. Miller: I like Colonel Rook, the main protagonist. He’s charged with presidential security. He’s a Union man but not a Lincoln man--he didn’t vote for Abe and has some questions about whether this prairie lawyer is the leader America needs at its moment of crisis. He also knows his duty and he’s willing to risk insubordination to perform it.

Question: You’re also a respected nonfiction writer. What prompted your foray into fiction?

John J. Miller: I’m a fan of the form--an old English major who secretly wanted to write an entertaining thriller, even as I was trying to build a career as a journalist. When the idea of The First Assassin came to me, I couldn’t resist.

Question: How does this book compare to your previous books?

John J. Miller: The obvious difference is that it’s fiction. But there’s an important similarity as well: it dives into American history and tries to bring the past to life.

Question: In your "day job" you write for the Wall Street Journal and National Review. Have you always wanted to write? What other careers have you pursued?

John J. Miller: I think so. I certainly enjoyed it as a kid. I worked on newspapers in high school and college. Several potential career paths have presented themselves to me, but I’ve always come back to writing. A few years ago, I spoke about the writing life at a middle school career day--and then turned my remarks into a short article.

Question: What's next for you?

John J. Miller: My next book is a return to nonfiction. The Big Scrum: How Theodore Roosevelt Saved Football is scheduled for publication in 2011. Beyond that, I have an idea for a sequel to The First Assassin--a stand-alone story that will take several of the characters deeper into the Civil War.


--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* It’s America 1861, and the slave states are jubilant. Fort Sumter has fallen. The new president—the guy in the stovepipe hat—has slunk into Washington at night, like the craven thing they know he is. If the slaveholders assassinate this “Black Republican,” they’ll have their own country. Langston Bennett, a Charleston plantation owner, is a gentleman until he’s crossed. That’s when he sets up the murder-for-hire scheme that drives this historical thriller. The elements interconnect with watchmaker intricacy: the psycho killer, all animal cunning; the exhausted member of the White House detail who can’t convince anyone of the danger; the beautiful woman, all money and magnolia accent, who can’t be trusted; the brave, battered, escaped slave who holds the key and must get to D.C. in time. Comparisons to The Day of the Jackal are inevitable, and the author plays along, naming one character Charles Calthrop. (Remember ChaCal in Forsyth’s novel?) The plot cascades along as if running on tracks, which thriller fans won’t mind at all. History buffs, the other half of the target audience, can still learn things, like the meaning of “grave dust.” A great ride, especially for those who enjoyed Dara Horn’s All Other Nights (2009). --Don Crinklaw --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (October 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1449532438
  • ISBN-13: 978-1449532437
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (180 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,360,906 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John J. Miller is the author of "The First Assassin," a Civil War thriller. His nonfiction books include "The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football," "Our Oldest Enemy," "A Gift of Freedom," and "The Unmaking of Americans." He writes for National Review, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications. The Chronicle of Higher Education has called him "one of the best literary journalists in the country." A native of Detroit, he is director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College in Michigan. To learn more about John J. Miller and his work, visit his website at www.HeyMiller.com.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

200 of 226 people found the following review helpful By Robert C. Rogers on November 24, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
And now for something completely different, a review from someone who purchased and read the book before the brown shirted thugs started to take over the Amazon reviews.

The book's strength is its portrait of the Washington, D.C. of 1860. Miller is able to convey a strong sense of place by working details of the city into the plot rather than just giving a narrative travelogue. Technology, architecture, sanitation, and commerce all come up in fairly natural ways. He is a bit less successful with this in his portraits of Charleston and a South Carolina plantation.

The biggest weakness is the dialog. Many characters' words feel "researched" rather than lied. This is always the toughest task in historical fiction - giving us a feel for the strangeness of our language in a different time while making it feel alive. Miller has a way to go to be one of the best at this.

The plot is enjoyable, and the pacing and rhythm are well done. Miller avoids the dreadful "quick cut" technique that seems to sell so many bad books these days. A very enjoyable read.
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536 of 631 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S. Rogers VINE VOICE on November 20, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm sure it won't escape anyone who notices the sudden explosion of one-star "reviews" of "The First Assassin" how many of those so-called "reviews" are ad-hominems against the author, not reviews of the book. Those that do talk about the book rely on the excerpts posted here or on the author's own website, or (as another reviewer points out) on the comments of a particular blogger who evidently has it in for John Miller because of who Mr. Miller writes for. Readers interested in the book itself, instead of the author's politics, will know how to look past all that, and see the merits of which is in fact a pretty darn good first novel.

Most immediately impressive, of course, is the depth of John Miller's historical research. He's able to capture both the era and the people in it quite well. More significantly, however, he's been able to wrap that research around a well-crafted story, a plot that keeps the reader involved, and characters we can care about (contrast this, for people still looking for political bias, with the wooden characterizations in Newt Gingrich's Pearl Harbor novel Days of Infamy, where I would not have recognized his "Winston Churchill" as Winston Churchill if the author hadn't told us that's who he was). Is Miller's prose style to everyone's taste? No, of course not. But then, neither is any other writer's. Parts of "The First Assassin" could use some tightening, as the pros say. Some of the narrative passages, I'd like to have seen as dialogue instead ("Show them, don't tell them"). I'm confident future novels will be more polished -- and there will be future novels, won't there?

Look. This is a first novel.
Read more ›
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343 of 420 people found the following review helpful By LindaLou on November 20, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Miller has managed to create a believable, suspense-filled thriller out of a story whose ultimate ending everone knows, which is no small task. He does so by giving us refreshing characters who don't quite fit the stereotypes assigned them by prejudice or history and doing meticulous historical research to make his setting come alive. The writing is crisp, the dialogue natural, and the plot twists keep you turning the page. He wisely kept Abe Lincoln in the background through most of the novel, and when he does appear, briefly, it's not the Abe Lincoln as statesman or orator we see, but a man with a sense of humor even as he faces the nation's darkest hour. I loved the book and will be putting on my Christmas list to give friends and family.
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293 of 360 people found the following review helpful By Enrique F. on November 20, 2009
Format: Paperback
I have to admit this is not my usual cup of tea. I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this book. The way that it was written conveyed a very clear picture of Washington DC as it was ~150 years ago. I have read John J Miller's excerpts and news articles for years and look forward to more of his writings. I suggest this for anyone interested in historical fiction or simply a good read.
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320 of 394 people found the following review helpful By David D. Gersten on November 20, 2009
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Miller's first book is a page turner. He created a great story with believable dialogue and presents the perfect backdrop for historical characters we have always wanted to know more about. This is what historical fiction is supposed to accomplish. Great supplement to our homeschool curriculum.
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294 of 362 people found the following review helpful By A Big Fan on November 20, 2009
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Unfortunately, and seemingly there's no justification for this in the content of the book itself, a Liberal group centered [...] is dead-set on trying to destroy this book by posting their negative reviews on Amazon. I doubt that any of them have actually read the book. Their reviews are all agenda driven, rather than commenting on the fast-paced, action-filled story. It is a great story, full of intrigue, very believable, along the lines of Stephen King action in a John Grisham plot. It also gives interesting background on what was happening in America and in Washington, DC, during Lincoln's presidency that is very enlightening. I am looking forward to the sequels.
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244 of 304 people found the following review helpful By David Bernstein on November 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
OK, maybe I'm biased because I have known the author for a long time...but this is a great read! The characters are all vivid, heroes and villains appear in the most unlikely places, and plot is full of surprises, big and small. It's a shame that the reviews here are being tainted by the politically-motivated jerks who are giving it one star based on reading the preview pages. I hope Amazon removes those soon so the book can find the audience it deserves.
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