Reading: David Stacton

There’s something puzzling and original about the flow of consciousness among characters and aphoristic narrator in this bleak novel first published in 1961. Stacton wrote a number of historical novels set in wildly varied times and places, and several genre potboilers under different pseudonyms. His attention to actors — John Wilkes Booth and his brother Edwin – and to the performativity underlying normal life seems somehow unsurprising.

And at noon President Johnson arrived.

That made everybody feel better. It brought life into perspective again, for Johnson was a man they could all understand, a wily hardbitten rogue with cold eyes and something evasive in his manner. He was, he had said so often, a common man. They had nothing against that. Politicians were always common men who did the work that statesmen could not stoop to do. It was the uncommon attributes of Lincoln that had disturbed them. About Lincoln there was always the reserve of a kindly judge who, kind or not, still sits up there, fingering the dossiers of both sides of the case, whether he admits to doing so or not.

Johnson stepped forward to the bier and looked down at that head from which Willie Wright, in whose bed the President had died, had saved some of the brains in a handkerchief, with the thought of giving them to Robert Lincoln, at the appropriate time. When a corrupt man becomes incorrupt, that merely means he uses the force of corruption for incorrupt ends. Unlike a man born good, he is hard to dislodge. But as yet nobody had had the chance to find that out.

David Stacton, The Judges of the Secret Court: A Novel About John Wilkes Booth. p. 120

And when is the appropriate time to hand to a son the spilled brains of his murdered father?


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