The Lincoln Letter (Fallon #5), by William Martin

Four stars (of five)

The Fallon series continues with another Martin classic, focussed on the US Civil War and its central character, Abraham Lincoln. When a letter surfaces, potentially the last he ever penned, in which Lincoln asks that a bureaucrat in the War Department return his personal date book, Fallon is pulled into the middle of the mystery and asked to locate the whereabouts of the original letter and the aforementioned piece of history to which it eludes. Alongside his girlfriend (yes, the wedding never took place), Evangeline Carrington, Fallon searches through numerous historical documents to give a more complete picture of the time and offer insight as to where this date book might have gone. The story alternates (in true Martin fashion) from the present to events during the War, in which the story of said date book and its robbery becomes central. However, Martin also offers numerous angles surrounding Lincoln’s thinking throughout the War and the sentiment by African Americans during the event, in hopes of shining a light on where they saw themselves in the larger picture. Fallon must not only find the date book, but fend off politicians who hope to use Lincoln’s decisions surrounding the War to fuel their own interests, all while pushing new and controversial ideas on the American people. What could Lincoln have included in that book and could it change the way modern America sees itself, both internally and on the world stage? A wonderful addition to Martin’s work and hopefully not the final chapter in the Fallon series.

Martin touches on yet another collection of historically significant events to present a novel that piques the reader’s interest from the outset. While all other novels in the series have used vast swaths of time to illustrate changes in mentality and how the specific historical item changed hands repeatedly, in this novel, the story focusses on wartime, and the nuanced shifts within that time period. Martin touches on the change in mentality surrounding the War’s justification and how constitutional loopholes left secession open for any state that desired its option. However, Lincoln would not stop until the issue of slavery had been decided, even if he offered a murky and somewhat contradictory stance on the larger issue. History has always come to shape this debate and even a century later, politicians were still trying to sort things out, based on Lincoln’s desires and Grant’s victory.

I would like to take a moment to touch on the Peter Fallon series as a whole, if I might. I am not sure if there are more books to come from William Martin, so it seems useful to offer some general comments at this point. Martin has used the series not only to touch on various aspects of New England history, but also to discuss how that history is woven together over numerous generations. Some call him a modern Mitchener or a fellow Edward Rutherfurd in his multi-generational storytelling. I agree on both counts, as Martin grabs onto history and presents it to the reader in an interesting manner. Each of the five novels is steeped in history and should not be scoffed at, though attention to detail is a must. While each novel can and does stand on its own, reading the series in chronological order offers a more sensical way of digesting the overarching themes the characters present and makes things more enjoyable all about. I would highly recommend the series to anyone with patience and a hunger for New England history. You’ll likely come away much better informed than when you arrived!

Kudos, Mr. Martin for such a wonderful book and series. I applaud you for all you’ve done to make history entertaining and educational at the same time.