First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Stay Haynes for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.
A great fan of all things political, I was drawn to Stay Haynes’ novel about a political assassination. Political history can be quite intriguing, as there are usually so many moving parts that help sketch out goings-on from a variety of perspectives. After ascending to the presidency, John Tyler begins to govern as though he possesses the powers of an elected leader. Many disagree, including one man who sees the country going in the wrong direction. Plotting action against Tyler will take more than simply desire, but the blowback could be even more troubling. Haynes does well to capture the reader’s attention in his piece, mixing history with some great character development.
The death of President Benjamin Harrison a month after he took office in 1841 shook America. Never had a president died in office, forcing constitutional scholars to scour the document to determine what would happen next. In the short term, Harrison’s vice-president, John Tyler, assumes the role, as denoted in the US Constitution. It is what happens next that leads to a great deal of confusion.
As Tyler begins ruling the country, he alienates many within his Whig Party. His views and actions push some to the brink, including Henry Clay, a powerful senator from Kentucky. Working alongside Clay is Monty Tolliver, a young man who idolises his boss. Tolliver speaks opening about his disdain for Tyler and the actions taken, spreading his sentiments to his best friends, Ben Gaddis.
As the years pass, Tolliver and Gaddis concoct a plot that would see Tyler removed from office, not on a political scandal, but through his death. While assassination is treason, these two men cannot stand idly by as President Tyler eyes bringing Texas into the Union and fomenting more division over the question of slavery. They draw up a plan and thought it foolproof, only to have things go awry and leave Ben injured.
After Ben turns up dead a few days later, possibly by his own hand, Tolliver begins to process what he has done, only to learn that there was something not entirely right about his friend’s apparent suicide. Working with a Washington City detective, Tolliver tries to get to the root of what happened, as well as keep secret the plot of his attempt on Tyler’s life. An intriguing piece of historical fiction, indeed!
While I had not heard of Stan Haynes before this novel, I was quite impressed with his writing. There is something for everyone’s in this piece, which offers readers a glimpse into a time gone by, as well as some great historical backstory around a small piece in pre-Civil War times. I can only hope that there is more to come, as Haynes has me eager to add to my knowledge of US history.
Monty Tolliver plays a central role in the story, working through not only his impressionable years, but also some key moments of self-reflection. The story offers a little backstory, but much of it is about the development of Monty’s views and sentiments about making such a rash decision as to plot the assassination of a sitting president. Haynes keeps him as a strong character throughout and left me wanting to know more about the man who would one day rise to claim a seat in the House of Representatives.
I would suppose that the greatest issue with writing historical fiction is to keep true to the events, while also developing a spot for characters to thrive and carve out their own paths. Haynes does this effectively, keeping the reader intrigued not only with the goings-on that match this history books, but also offering a personal glimpse into events. The strong narrative helped to keep this going, while using a plot that is likely not entirely well known (if not fictitious entirely). Great characters and some poignant moments helped keep the story moving, especially through two timelines. Short chapters made me want to push through, if only to get to the climactic moments and see how they played out. I will certainly look into some of Stan Haynes’ non-fiction work, but am hoping for more in the fiction column as well.
Kudos, Mr. Haynes for a great foray into the world of historical fiction. I hope others with a penchant for the genre take note as well.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons