Picks and Pans Review: The Chester A. Arthur Conspiracy

updated 08/29/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/29/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by William Wiegand

Jaunty and wildly imaginative, this recycling of American history would have a reader believe that John Wilkes Booth escaped after shooting Lincoln. Then he hid out with Southern relatives of Chester A. Arthur, became the lover of Arthur's wife and, when Arthur later died, disguised himself as the President and served out his term. Booth, brother of the great actor Edwin Booth and an actor himself, is portrayed as a master at taking on other identities, and he runs through a full range in this novel. Arthur is a stuffy, corrupt politician. His wife is a Southern belle, and their marriage is crippled by the Civil War. Wiegand, a writing teacher at San Francisco State University, has done prodigious research to re-create a thousand details that convey the period atmosphere, and it is largely these grace notes that make this odd novel such a pleasure to read. The incidental characters, including a bright young boy whom the fugitive Booth takes under his wing as a kind of apprentice, are clever parodies of the usual Horatio Alger fiction about the post-Civil War era. (Dial/Doubleday, $17.95)

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