Reviewed in the United States on July 29, 2018
This extraordinary book, based upon a recently found transcript by Robert Roberts Hitt, is a pleasure to read...There are so many pieces to absorb beside the actual last trial by Lincoln. The time itself was in the midst of now being able to make available full transcripts of trials, speeches, and more. Robert Hitt was one of the earliest individuals who we normally called stenographers; i.e., there was no machine involved, it was one individual taking down what each individual said and then presenting a full documentation of what had occurred.
Yes, I was one of those stenographers at one time early in my life; but it was as part of full secretarial duties, so I can't imagine taking notes hour after hour, within a trial environment. I found myself, since Mr. Hitt, serves as the book's narrator, paying attention to what he was going through... speaking of his fingers cramping but unable to stop writing...running out of ink and missing a few words which he would try to fill in later... And just imagine that he had become a personal friend to Abe Lincoln and had a personal desire to ensure his work for him was the best it could possibly be...
The second point of interest was that laws were being written as a result of crimes being committed and trials taking place. It seemed a bit haphazard; on the other hand, the men who were lawyers at that time, loved the law and were personally dedicated to improving the processes as they handled each case. In order to move justice forward, lawyers would take turns acting on behalf of the defendant, as the prosecutor, and even the judge. Men like Abraham Lincoln had gained their reputation through their won cases and trust in the individual proved to be a deciding factor on which lawyer someone would select.
A perfect illustration of this was being asked to handle the case for Quinn Harrison, by his grandfather, who within the political area, Lincoln and he were mostly enemies... Yet, Lincoln was requested and he accepted, even though he was already in the midst of, having decided to run, working to promote his candidacy as president of the United States.
What was most refreshing, however, was the atmosphere of the setting of a trial. First, this was a highly controversial murder in a small town where the two men involved had family and friends. Everybody had already taken sides as to who was guilty... Indeed, at that time, entire communities would come to watch legal cases, using it as a high form of entertainment, even beyond their possible personal interest. While basic structure was maintained, still one lawyer or another felt free to stand, interrupt, and propose a thought, without anybody objecting. Then, too, most of the lawyers knew and liked each other and rarely would treat the other without complete respect.
All in all I enjoyed the historical perspective of the whole book, well beyond the murder case itself...The research beyond the found transcript certainly increased the awareness of the time period as well as the people involved.
For me, the murder case was cut and dry...There was no doubt in my mind that the defendant was not guilty--perhaps I've read too many novels by Kenneth G. Eade who gives us thrills and suspense! Kinda kidding, but, truly, there was such a difference...everything straight forward, nothing but the law being reviewed, applied and acted upon to pull together the facts that ultimately allowed a clear decision to be made... Or was it?
Because the closing argument by Lincoln was "one of those speeches" he was known for and held all within the building spellbound... Just as I was for the entire book! For legal fiction fans...This is a Must-Read. For Historical non- and fiction fans...This is a Must-Read. And let's face it, just for the value of learning about our great president's last murder case... Well, I recommend it as a Must-Read...for Everybody!