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The Assassin's Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln Hardcover – June 3, 2008

3.6 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Was Mary Surratt an accomplice in Lincoln's assassination and justly sent to the scaffold? Larson freshly tackles these questions in this spirited narrative, mining just about every shred of evidence. While having started out believing in her subject's innocence, she ends up convinced that Surratt was guilty of joining John Wilkes Booth's plot to kill the president. Less sure, however, that Surratt should have swung from the gallows, Larson (Bound for the Promised Land) leaves this deeply freighted moral question open, as it should be. The tale itself could not be better told, nor could the cast of characters be brought more to life. What mars the work is Larson's maddening, anachronistic use of Mary to name her subject (no Abe for Lincoln here, no John for Booth) and her missing the chance to draw out the implications of the role of Surratt—a widow in an otherwise all-male plot—for our understanding of women's place in her day. But it's now up to those who still think Surratt innocent to prove Larson wrong. They'll be hard put to do so. Illus., maps. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"Spectator"
"Larson captures brilliantly the atmosphere of Mary Surratt's trial in a crowded court room -- murder trials attract morbid spectators -- during the sweltering heat of a Washington summer. Her description of the drama of Mary's last hours, when she was broken by a death sentence that neither she nor her lawyers had believed possible, makes compelling reading."
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (June 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465038158
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465038152
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,298,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
More specifically, was Mary Surratt guilty of helping plot the murder of Lincoln? Author Kate Clifford Larson is so convinced of Mary's complicity, she calls her Booth's accomplice. The evidence against her is circumstantial but compelling.

Even today, there is a reluctance to attribute guilt to Mary Surratt. She was widely viewed as loving, kind, and regular in church attendance. Weichmann testified to her exemplary character. Fellow inmate Virginia Lomax cited examples of her kindheartedness to others in prison. Even Mary's ex-slave, Rachel Semus (p. 187), testified Mrs. Suratt always treated her fairly and she thus never had reason to complain. [As a descendant of slaves, I certainly don't grant Mrs. Surratt a pass. Unfortunately however, even our most revered figures - Washington and Jefferson - engaged in this detestable commerce. Second, at a time when incivility and sometimes cruelty to slaves were not uncommon, Mary was utterly blameless. Compare with "kindly" Dr. Mudd who shot a slave for insubordination (Edward Steers, "His Name is Still Mudd"). Compare with Lewis Paine who was arrested after stomping a black maid for talking back.]

Mary Surratt's saintly image frustrates attempts to see her as complicit in Lincoln's demise. But, says author Larson, she lied when she denied knowing Paine. She lied when she denied knowing David Herold who had visited frequently at her tavern. And why the many visits by Booth to her H Street boarding house, the two sometimes disappearing for clandestine conversations lasting an hour and longer? Why could she not find that exculpatory letter from her son, purportedly received the very day detectives demanded it?

Why the April 11 hushed tones with Lloyd about having "shooting irons" ready soon?
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Format: Paperback
Having read previously MANHUNT (and other books by James Swanson) and AMERICAN BRUTUS, I felt this book fell short a bit. Nonetheless, as the first book I've read primarily devoted to Mary Jenkins Surratt and her alledged participation in the Lincoln Assassination, I found this book flawed but compeling reading.
This book could easily be split into two parts.....before the assassination and after the assasination. Mrs. Surratt's participation up until the point of the assassination appears potentially damaging at the very least. Based on the testimony of people such as Louis Weichmann (her boarder), Mrs. Surratt appears to be complicite in a plot to kidnap Lincoln and hold him hostage. She offered her home to Booth and the conspirators over and over again as the initial plot was hatched. She took trips into Southern Maryland to convey information and secure supplies necessary to affect the kidnapping plot. She appeared to aid her son John on numerous occasions. John was a known confederate spy and operative. Mrs. Surratt herself was loyal to the cause of the south. The fact that she was involved at least on a superficial level in the plot to kidnap Lincoln was fairly obvious. However, things get a little fuzzy once the game plan evolved into an assassination plot. While evidence suggests she may have well been involved, it probably isn't as completely convincing because things evolved so quickly from a kidnapping plot to a assassination.
After the assassination, the conspirators were rounded up rather quickly. A speedy trial was held and within a matter of a couple months a verdict was handed down on the evidence that was presented. The veracity of the evidence has long been viewed as questionable as some information was withheld and testimony may have been altered.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
To the author's credit, she has a Ph.D., has published a previous book regarding a person of this era and presently teaches in a college. She also did a great deal of research to put together some of the facts regarding the execution of Mary Surratt.

She wrote a mini-review of Robert Redford's movie, The Conspirator, which he based on this book.

She wrote a lengthy introduction giving an overview of the times and situation in which Mary Surratt's "trial" and execution took place and a large bibliography at the end which lists her sources by chapter.

Although the author says in her introduction that she began the research supposing that Mrs. Surratt was much less guilty than the charges against her, the book proves to be difficult reading. The research, she says, proves the point of even more involvement of Mrs. Surratt in being a co-conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The author uses phrases put together to deem Mrs. Surratt guilty. I found most of the book seemed to be written from a Northern point of view.

Whether or not Mrs. Surratt was guilty as charged is a moot point at this time. I would be careful in recommending this book to anyone. I did not find the writing easy to follow or very enjoyable. However, it did describe the physical conditions of the courtroom, the jail cells, crowds and the newspapers' reporting very well. The author did a tremendous amount of work with all the research that went into this story and should be commended for that.
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