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The First Assassin Paperback – September 14, 2010
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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.
Top Customer 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.
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 ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It helps if; you love period pieces, history and are a die hard Lincoln devotee. With that said, it's a page turner.Published 11 days ago by WebDragon220
Very riveting!! Keeps you in the edge of your seat! The historical descriptions help with the narrative and add meaning to the story.Published 13 days ago by FERNANDO L BESTARD
I love Civil War era history and this book seemed very true to that time. The characters, particularly Col. Rook, are real and fully fleshed out. Very enjoyable reading!Published 28 days ago by 3whelr
Very interesting background---the civil war and the whole depiction of slavery .It holds your attention ---you do not want to put the book down.Published 1 month ago by michael pantuliano
A thrilling visit to a very credible Civil War era. We are given a tour of the inside the minds of slaves, enslavers, abolitionists and pro-slavery unionists. Read morePublished 1 month ago by DeWitt C Fields
Miller is an excellent journalist, but he shows serious chops as a novelist here. "The First Assassin" is a classic thriller with airtight plot and well-rounded characters. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Robert Dean Lurie
This is an exciting story about life on a pre-civil war Southern plantation spanning the election of Abraham Lincoln and his early presidency. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
Great historical fiction. Seems to be well researched. Good story line.Published 2 months ago by Robert M Miner