Lincoln in the Basement by Jerry Cowling. Review by Saundra Kane

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American Civil War fiction and nonfiction is always a draw to me, because I have such an interest in that time in American history. So I was anxious to read Lincoln in the Basement by Jerry Cowling. It is a well-written and creative alternative history set during the American Civil War.

The story takes place in the White House during the last months of the Civil War. President Lincoln's Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton has arranged the kidnapping of Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary. They are held in the basement of the White house, while Stanton finds imposters for Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln and he blackmails them into taking these positions and maintaining silence about this deception.

This is an interesting study into what could have happened and how the American people and White House staff could be duped. However, I feel that the deception was accomplished all too easily in this book. I think the real Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln would have put up much more of a fight. And while a member or two of the cabinet grew suspicious in the book, I think more people would have seen through this deception in reality.

The Lincolns stay in the basement until the war ends, but the result of history is largely unchanged. In my experience, alternate histories usually show what would have happened if something had done different. For example, Philip Roth's The Plot against America depicts an alternate history when Lindbergh was elected President. I did not see how history was changed in this book. Stanton still conferred with the real Lincoln on matters of war, for instance, when a change of General was needed or when writing of the Gettysburg Address.

The characters in the book are interesting. The guards and the staff of the White house have their own unique stories that unfold throughout the book. It was an entertaining read and I would recommend it to other Civil War buffs.


Saundra Kane is a lifelong reader and booklover. She currently runs two online communities for fiction readers: Bestsellers & Literature and Mystery Discussion Forum.