Perish From the Earth by Jonathan F. Putnam is the second book I’ve read this year about riverboats and intrigue during the the early 1800s. (The first being Martha Conway’s The Underground River). Both include historically accurate topics and events, and even a few people from history.
Putnam’s book takes it a bit further, in that most of the main characters are people who existed in history. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) Joshua Speed, the son of a Kentucky judge and planter, owns a general store in a Springfield, Illinois. During the 1830s, Speed shared a room with the young lawyer and state legislator Abraham Lincoln. In addition, several of the other characters are true historical people.
Speed is at the center of this novel, but don’t get the idea that Perish From the Earth is dry and boring. In fact, it’s a solid whodunit mashed up with police and legal procedurals. But don’t forget the procedures are from 1836, so hanging is still the alternative to innocence. That adds a layer of intensity to the stakes!
Speed and Lincoln must team up to investigate a murder, and defend an alleged criminal. The action takes place in Alton, Illinois, a town just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Other locations include a steamboat owned by Joshua’s father, Judge Speed.
Jonathan Putnam does a great job of incorporating true historical details into the story, while still maintaining an exciting plot. I could feel the tension, while also gaining perspective on the social and political issues of the time. Plus, I just straight out like Speed and Lincoln as people.
One reason I picked up this book is it’s set one town over from my college town. Of course, it’s set 150 years earlier than I was there! Even so, some landmarks from the story were around when I was in college, so I enjoyed the walk down memory lane.
This second novel in the series reads enough like an independent book that I wasn’t worried about missing plot elements. In fact, I liked Putnam’s writing style and the characters enough to snag the first book in the series for future reading. This is definitely a great historical fiction mystery—not too heavy and not too light. Perfect for summer!
Thanks to NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books for a digital ARC in exchange for my honest review.