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The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War Hardcover – January 29, 2013

4.1 out of 5 stars 131 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Some of President Lincoln’s associates and some historians have questioned if the supposed conspiracy to assassinate him upon his arrival in Baltimore was serious. Stashower has no doubt that the plot was real, and he has written a convincing and well-researched chronicle of it and the successful effort to thwart it. His story has the necessary elements of a successful historical thriller, including a determined assassin; a wily, intrepid detective; a serpentine plot; and, in Lincoln, an important and sympathetic potential victim. Stashower seems determined to lay out the painstaking details of the plot; although it provides credibility, it sometimes acts as a drag on the narrative. Still, the stakes are high, so the story has a built-in urgency and excitement. The detective, the soon-to-be-famous Allan Pinkerton, is a relentless and clever sleuth, and the chief conspirator, a Baltimore barber named Ferrandini, is a formidable adversary. Despite some slow moments, the book generally succeeds as both a historical inquiry and a detective story. --Jay Freeman


“This account of the little-known Baltimore-based plot to assassinate Lincoln… hurtles across a landscape of conspirators, heroes and politicos in hotel suites, ladies' parlors and railway depots…. We can be grateful that Old Abe survived the first attempt on his life. And now we have the chance to relish the story of the clever and determined characters who were dedicated to his safety.” ―New York Times Book Review

“The world's most famous private eye saves Abraham Lincoln's life--and perhaps the Union itself? Sounds like fiction, but in Daniel Stashower's riveting new book, it's all true. It's history that reads like a race-against-the-clock thriller.” ―Harlan Coben

“Reads like a first-class detective novel . . . Pinkerton's tireless energy prevented a tragedy that might have destroyed the republic.” ―James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom

“A fast-paced page turner. Stashower deploys the skills of a gifted veteran mystery writer.” ―Michael Burlingame, author of Abraham Lincoln: A Life


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; First Edition edition (January 29, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312600224
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312600228
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (131 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #596,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Peril facing Abraham Lincoln was assassination in Baltimore prior to his 1861 inauguration as he made his way to the Nation's Capital. The primitive rail network of the time necessitated a time-consuming transfer of railcars from one station to another in Baltimore, during which a hostile mob could easily kill the president-elect. The local police could not be relied upon as they were riddled with secessionists. To bring along a contingent of loyal forces, possibly military, would only push Maryland into the confederacy. So, Lincoln's original plan was to travel through Baltimore openly, with no more than a handful of discreet bodyguards at his side.

The Hour of Peril is a fine example of narrative micro-history, where a single event is examined in detail along with mini-biographies of the important players and lots of context setting. The books of Simon Winchester (e.g., Krakatoa) are good examples of the genre. Another example would serve as a suitable prequel to this book: Case of Abraham Lincoln. It covers Lincoln's emergence as a strong voice against the spread of slavery in the new Republican Party.

The story of Allan Pinkerton and his detective agency are central to The Hour of Peril. Allan Pinkerton essentially invented the job of private detective. We also meet Kate Warne, a remarkable young woman, highly self-assured and gifted in the arts of persuasion and undercover investigation.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I almost regretted requesting this book as I had overdosed on books on both Abraham and Mary Lincoln. Was I in for a delightful surprise! This book isn't really about Lincoln per se, though it does reveal interesting quirks and facts about his personality. The central figure is Allan Pinkerton, a Scotsman and America's first "Private Eye" who uncovers and derails a plot to assassinate Lincoln en route to his inauguration in Washington. Have you ever heard of Pinkerton? I hadn't. His is the great untold story of the Civil War era.

The tale begins in Pinkerton's home town of Glasgow where he learns the cooper's craft, falls in love at first sight with a charming singer whom he courts and marries, and eventually emigrates to the United States where, in a village of fellow expatriate Scots, he becomes the self-proclaimed "Only and Original Cooper of Dundee." A chance discovery and the opportunity to apprehend a renowned forger (which he partially botches) gives Pinkerton a local reputation for detective work which gradually catapults the Cooper of Dundee into a career in law enforcement before finally striking out on his own in an independent detective agency, whose motto, "We Never Sleep," will henceforth characterize Pinkerton's dogged determination.

Gathering about him a diverse group of trusted operatives including a former Jesuit seminarian and the first female private eye, and employing a vast array of disguises, false identities, secret codes, and other devices, Pinkerton and his team grip the reader's attention with their exploits.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I read an ARC of this book, titled "The First Time They Tried To Kill Lincoln" that features on the cover a photo of the book, The Hour of Peril. That's a marketing ploy that seems self-defeating at the outset - why deliberately create title confusion?

The book begins with a bio of Allan Pinkerton. I found this section to be the most interesting in the book, even as I wondered when we were going to get to the plot against Lincoln, which was purported to be the book's topic. Careful what you wish for, I guess. Stashower tries to create tension by switching between Lincoln's progress on his inaugural trip and various Pinkerton operatives trying to find credible evidence of a plot to assassinate the President-elect in Baltimore. The result is uneven, and attempts at cliffhanger suspense don't really work, as we all know Lincoln made it to DC.

It could be another special feature of the ARC version, but while Stashower uses copious quotes, the only attribution is a "select bibliography" that is not even divided by chapters. In many, if not most cases, it's impossible to know what source is being quoted. I don't expect footnotes in narrative nonfiction, but I don't think endnotes are too much to ask.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Very interesting piece of history. Had this assassination plot actually materialized, would we still be one nation? Many fascinating details are brought forth in this book about the mood of America prior to Lincoln assuming office. The patriotism in the North, hatred in the South, and widespread anxiety everywhere are clearly given full voice. Also made clear is the crushing weight of responsibility falling on Lincoln to be the man to resolve this critical crisis. His dedication to the Constitution and to the United States of America (writ bold) steered his vision all along. The story of Allan Pinkerton and the agency he founded along with his hiring of the first female agent, Kate Warne, adds much drama to an already dramatic series of events. Lincoln's chaotic railroad trip from Springfield to Washington, DC, starting on February 11, 1861, with its crushing crowds and total lack of security, is well worth reading about. His endless and somewhat bland speeches and the descriptions of the men surrounding him on this trip are also well worth knowing.

However, my big disappointment with the author and with this book is its lack of attribution for frequent direct quotes and facts. How is a reader to know if the author is simply embellishing for effect or if he's quoting a source? Other popular history authors such as Candice Millard, Erik Larsen, and Doris Kearns Goodwin make it a point to thoroughly footnote every fact and quote and list out all their sources. That scholarly practice adds gravitas to their work and makes it all the more dynamic. They have set the bar high. Not so here. Either the author was lazy or else was simply pulling a fast one on the reading public. Wherefore fact? Wherefore fiction? Author: Please show us your sources. We demand them.
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