Just after 4 p.m. on September 6, 1901, twenty-eight year old anarchist Leon Czolgosz pumped two shots into the chest and abdomen of President William McKinley. Czolgosz had been on a receiving line waiting to shake the president’s hand, his revolver concealed in an oversized bandage covering his right hand and wrist. McKinley had two Secret Service agents by his side, but neither made a move to stop the assailant. After he was apprehended, Czolgosz said simply, “I done my duty.”
Both law enforcement and the press insisted that Czolgosz was merely the tip of a vast and murderous conspiracy, likely instigated by the “high priestess of anarchy,” Emma Goldman. To untangle its threads and bring the remaining conspirators to justice, the president’s most senior advisors choose two other Secret Service agents, Walter George and Harry Swayne. What they uncover will not only absolve the anarchists, but also expose a plot that will threaten the foundations of American democracy, and likely cost them their lives.
As in his other brilliant novels combining history and fiction, Lawrence Goldstone creates a remarkable and chilling tableau, filled with suspense and unexpected turns of fate, detailing events that actually might have happened. As Publishers Weeklyobserved in its starred review of the “exceptional thriller,” Deadly Cure, “Goldstone again blends fact and fiction seamlessly.”
Assassin of Shadows touches on a subject rarely talked about in American history: the McKinley assassination. Out of all the presidents that met their end through violent means, McKinley was the lowest in the popularity polls. As a result, his story hasn’t passed through the true crime genre much. Assassin of Shadows makes the attempt, and it’s a shame I couldn’t even finish it.
It’s about this time in the review I tell you who we are following through the course of the book, the the plot, the stakes, even. I can’t tell you any of this because I feel like I read the author’s first draft. The beginning POV is switched in the middle of the first chapter, and we don’t see this character again. The author harps on insignificant details that do nothing for the plot, particularly doors made out of mahogany. The sentence flow is so choppy, and the dialogue is forced. The scenes sound like they belong in a textbook, and the book (at least in the beginning) spends little time on the attack on the president. Which is the basis of the entire novel.
Assassin of Shadows contains interesting subject matter, but it requires several rounds with an editor. Otherwise, the author may need to rethink his audience, and the genre. I thank NetGalley and Pegasus Books for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.