Monday, 25 February 2019 19:38

Jonathan Putnam’s Lincoln and Speed Mystery Series features Abraham Lincoln and his best friend, Joshua Speed, who met as young men and remained lifelong friends. The books take place in what was then the frontier town of Springfield, Illinois, and give you a whole new picture of Lincoln as well as life on the frontier. The mystery part is pretty great too! These are really enjoyable reads as well as being informative about the time and place.

Robin Agnew for Mystery Scene: What turned you from the law to mystery novels?

Jonathan Putnam: I was a trial lawyer for a large, international law firm in New York City for 20 years before deciding I wanted to become a novelist. A trial lawyer, like a writer, is at bottom a storyteller. My job was to assemble the known facts into a compelling narrative that was interesting and believable and convinced the judge and jury to find in favor of my client.

I enjoyed my time as a lawyer, but after a while I started to get tired of telling someone else’s stories (that is, my clients’). I wanted to tell my own stories.

Are you a greater fan of mysteries or of Abraham Lincoln?

At this point, I’m a huge fan of both, but I can’t say I’ve always been a Lincoln scholar. When I was just starting to think about writing, I was brainstorming about famous lawyers in history around whom I could build a historical mystery. Lincoln was one obvious possibility. Then my sister, who’s a real historian (Chair of the History Department at the University of Pittsburgh), suggested that I could have Lincoln’s roommate narrate his story. I had never heard of Joshua Speed, but as soon as I started to look into him, I said to myself, “I’ve found my Watson!”

Mystery wise, who are your influences?

Among my favorite mystery writers are Dick Francis, Tony Hillerman, and (of course) Agatha Christie. Scott Turow is probably my favorite legal thriller writer. I find David Liss’ historical thrillers to be consistently excellent. And The Alienist by Caleb Carr is probably the single book that has influenced my writing the most. Like my books, The Alienist features a future president in a real-life pre-presidential role (in his case, Theodore Roosevelt as New York City’s police commissioner, although my Lincoln plays a more prominent role in my books than does his Roosevelt in his).

Lincoln Abraham
A young Abraham Lincoln

You write about the young Lincoln and a time that many people may not know as much about, so along with the mystery element, there's plenty of interesting history to learn. Do you have any difficulty tempering the research and knowledge you have to prevent overwhelming the book with historical detail?

People’s image of Lincoln is overwhelmingly focused on his final, presidential years. When I give book talks, I ask the audience to form a mental picture of Lincoln and then ask if he’s bearded in that mental image. Nearly every person in every audience nods. I tell them that that image is necessarily of his presidential years, as Lincoln didn’t grow a beard until he was running for president in 1860.

Now, the five years when Lincoln was president were incredibly consequential, for the man and indeed for our nation, but they were only five years of his life. That man came from somewhere. My books allow readers a close look at Lincoln much earlier in his life, as a young adult who drifted from job to job and finally made a go of it as a prairie trial lawyer in Springfield, Illinois. There is an incredibly rich tapestry of history to draw from in filling in the details around the central mystery and illuminating the life and times of the young Lincoln and Speed.

At the same time, I always remember that I’m telling an engaging mystery story, and the story has to come first. In libel law, there’s an old saying: “The truth is an absolute defense.” That is, if you write something derogatory about someone, but what you say is true, you can’t be sued for it. In writing, I’ve come to the opposite maxim: The truth is not a defense. Just because something actually happened, or some historical tidbit might seem irresistibly interesting, doesn’t make it effective storytelling.

I always include a “Historical Note” at the end of each book, so my readers know what in the book is true to life and what’s made up. The large majority of my plot points and characters are drawn from the actual historical record, but sometimes I put them together in ways that serve my fiction.

You have three books out now, and a fourth scheduled for this summer. What arc do you have in mind? How far will you take Lincoln on his journey? I think he must meet Mary Todd in the next book.

Lincoln and Speed lived together for four years in Springfield, Illinois, when both were young, unmarried menfrom 1837 to 1841and they remained lifelong friends. The three books so far, These Honored Dead, Perish from the Earth, and Final Resting Place, have been set in 1837-38. The new one, A House Divided (to be published in July 2019), is set in 1840, and you’re right: Mary Todd is a major character. In real life, Mary arrived in Springfield in the fall of 1839, and as a smart, beautiful and politically savvy young woman she made a big splash. Lincoln, Speed, and many other men in town vied for her hand. She’s a fascinating character, much more interesting and sympathetic than her historical reputation (which is overwhelming based on Lincoln’s presidential years and thereafter), and I think readers will really enjoy getting a new perspective on her in the book.

As far as the series goes, Lincoln and Speed remained lifelong friends and had a number of notable interactions with each other even after they stopped living together. I’d like to use the series to trace the entire arc of their friendship, in tandem with the arc of the country over that same time as it tumbled towards Civil War. Since the two men were, at least initially, on opposite sides of the slavery debate (Speed came from a wealthy slave-owning family in Louisville, Kentucky), their friendship embodied all of the conflicts and contradictions of that period in our nation’s history.

What would you say to folks who aren't especially fans of Lincoln (though who could that be?) to convince them to read your books?

My books can be read as the historical adventures of two best friends on the American frontier in the 1830s, a lawyer named Abe and a shopkeeper named Joshua, who investigate murders that occur in their community. It just happens that both of them, as well as most of my other characters, are based on historical figures. Personally, I think anyone who enjoys history or historical mysteries will enjoy the books without regard to the fact that one of the characters is Lincoln.

I'm also fascinating by the frontier aspect of the books. Springfield, Illinois, was really at the edge of the United States at the time you are writing about. Can you talk about what makes that historical period come alive for you as you write and how you get it across to a reader?

The American frontier of the 1830s and 1840s was a remarkable place and time, although very little is remembered about it today. The railroads still years away from the region, so to get anywhere you had to travel by stagecoach, horseback, orif you were near to mighty Mississippi, or any of the other great riversby steamboat. It was a time of much violence and much turbulence, spectacular fortunes and spectacular crashes. The customs of the society were very much like ours today in some ways, and very different in others. For example, I have a vignette in Final Resting Place about the way that unmarried men and women courted in Springfield that seems a million years away from the dating scene today.

I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to live on the frontier of the 1830s, but it would have been a fascinating place to visit. That’s the experience I try to give my readers in the books.

As a writer, what makes you excited to sit down and get to your writing every day?

It’s the best job in the world. I love crafting stories that readers will get lost in. There’s nothing better than hearing a reader tell me one of my books kept them up all night reading.

As a now veteran writer with three books to your credit, what do you think you've learned about publishing and writing along the way?

Just write. I think way too many writers spend way too much time worrying about how they’re going to sell their book and to whom. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that, too. But until you’ve got a compelling manuscript, you’ve got nothing to sell. And once you’ve got that, the rest will take care of itself. As a writer, you should spend 99 percent of your time (99.9 percent would be even better) just writing. It’s all you have control over.

Finally, what book was a transformational read for you? What book set you on the path to becoming a reader and/or writer?

In addition to The Alienist, which I mentioned earlier, I’d identify two books by Scott Turow. One L is his account of his first year at Harvard Law School; I read it during my own first year there. The following year, I read Presumed Innocent, his first legal thriller. Turow wrote that book while working as a big-firm lawyer in Chicago, and as I read it during law school, I thought to myself that maybe I’d try to do something similar, one day.

Jonathan Putnam is a writer and attorney. His books in the Lincoln and Speed Mystery Series include Final Resting Place (2018), Perish from the Earth (2017), and These Honored Dead (2016). He is currently working on the fourth book in the Lincoln and Speed Mystery Series, A House Divided, which is slated for publication in 2019. Jonathan has been active in a number of charitable causes relating to children and access to higher education for less fortunate kids. He is also the much-criticized commissioner of his family's fantasy football league and a back-of-the-pack marathon runner, having completed marathons in New York, Chicago, London, Paris and Las Vegas. He and his wife, Christin Putnam, have three sons. They live in London and New York.

Jonathan Putnam on the Lincoln and Speed Mysteries
Robin Agnew
Tuesday, 12 February 2019 15:56
Tan France, 2019 Audies
Tan France, emcee for the 2019 Audies

The Audio Publishers Association (APA) has announced the 2019 Audie Awards ® nominees for the best audiobooks in 24 categories. The winners will be announced at a gala ceremony, hosted by Tan France of Queer Eye fame, March 4​, 2019, at Guastavino’s in New York City.

Congrats to all the nominees, especially those in the mystery and thriller categories below. You can also explore and listen to excerpts from the full list of nominees HERE.


Lethal White by Robert Galbraith, narrated by Robert Glenister, published by Hachette Audio

The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah, narrated by Julian Rhind-Tutt, published by HarperAudio

The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George, narrated by Simon Vance, published by Penguin Random House Audio

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen, narrated by Jonathan Keeble and Katy Sobey, published by Audible Studios

Wild Fire by Ann Cleeves, narrated by Kenny Blyth, published by Macmillan Audio


Crimson Lake by Candice Fox, narrated by Euan Morton, published by Macmillan Audio

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware, narrated by Imogen Church, published by Simon & Schuster Audio

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo, narrated by Euan Morton, published by Penguin Random House Audio

The Outsider by Stephen King, narrated by Will Patton, published by Simon & Schuster Audio

The Terminal List by Jack Carr, narrated by Ray Porter, published by Simon & Schuster Audio

Their Lost Daughters by Joy Ellis, narrated by Richard Armitage, published by Audible Studios


An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, narrated by Eisa Davis and Sean Crisden, published by HighBridge Audio, a division of Recorded Books

Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz, narrated by the authors and a full cast, published by Penguin Random House Audio

Calypso, written and narrated by David Sedaris, published by Hachette Audio

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, narrated by Bahni Turpin, published by Macmillan Audio

The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King, narrated by LeVar Burton, published by Oasis Audio

I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, narrated by Gabra Zackman, Gillian Flynn, and Patton Oswalt, published by HarperAudio


An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green, narrated by Kristen Sieh and Hank Green, published by Penguin Random House Audio

The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton, narrated by Joanne Froggatt, published by Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, narrated by Julia Whelan, published by Macmillan Audio

Life of Pi by Yann Martel, narrated by Vikas Adam, published by Audible Studios

Sanctuary by Judy Nunn, narrated by John Derum, published by Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, narrated by Richard Armitage, published by HarperAudio


2019 Audie Award Mystery Nominees Announced
Mystery Scene
Tuesday, 22 January 2019 16:07

Mystery Writers of America have announced the nominees for the 2019 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, which honor the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, and television published or produced in 2018. The Edgar® Awards will be presented at the MWA's 73rd Gala Banquet, April 25, 2019, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City. Congratulations to all the nominees!

The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard (Blackstone Publishing)
House Witness by Mike Lawson (Grove Atlantic – Atlantic Monthly Press)
A Gambler’s Jury by Victor Methos (Amazon Publishing – Thomas & Mercer)
Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley (Hachette Book Group - Mulholland)
Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osborne (Penguin Random House – Hogarth)
A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn (Penguin Random House – Berkley)

A Knife in the Fog by Bradley Harper (Seventh Street Books)
The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut (HarperCollins Publishers - Ecco)
The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs (Simon & Schuster - Touchstone)
Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin (HarperCollins Publishers - Ecco)
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Hiroshima Boy by Naomi Hirahara (Prospect Park Books)
Under a Dark Sky by Lori Rader-Day (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani (Penguin Random House – Penguin Books)
Under My Skin by Lisa Unger (Harlequin – Park Row Books)

Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler (W.W. Norton & Company - Liveright)
Sex Money Murder: A Story of Crack, Blood, and Betrayal by Jonathan Green (W.W. Norton & Company)
The Last Wild Men of Borneo: A True Story of Death and Treasure by Carl Hoffman (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson (Penguin Random House - Viking)
I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara (HarperCollins Publishers - Harper)
The Good Mothers: The True Story of the Women Who Took on the World's Most Powerful Mafia by Alex Perry (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)

The Metaphysical Mysteries of G.K. Chesterton: A Critical Study of the Father Brown Stories and Other Detective Fiction by Laird R. Blackwell (McFarland Publishing)
Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow Paperbacks)
Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s by Leslie S. Klinger (Pegasus Books)
Mark X: Who Killed Huck Finn's Father? by Yasuhiro Takeuchi (Taylor & Francis - Routledge)
Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life by Laura Thompson (Pegasus Books)

“Rabid – A Mike Bowditch Short Story” by Paul Doiron (Minotaur Books)
“Paranoid Enough for Two” – The Honorable Traitors by John Lutz (Kensington Publishing)
“Ancient and Modern” – Bloody Scotland by Val McDermid (Pegasus Books)
“English 398: Fiction Workshop” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Art Taylor (Dell Magazines)
“The Sleep Tight Motel” – Dark Corners Collection by Lisa Unger (Amazon Publishing)

Denis Ever After by Tony Abbott (HarperCollins Children’s Books – Katherine Tegen Books)
Zap! by Martha Freeman (Simon & Schuster – Paula Wiseman Books)
Ra the Mighty: Cat Detective by A.B. Greenfield (Holiday House)
Winterhouse by Ben Guterson (Macmillan Children’s Publishing Company – Henry Holt BFYR)
Otherwood by Pete Hautman (Candlewick Press)
Charlie & Frog: A Mystery by Karen Kane (Disney Publishing Worldwide – Disney Hyperion)
Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground by T.R. Simon (Candlewick Press)

Contagion by Erin Bowman (HarperCollins Children’s Books - HarperCollins)
Blink by Sasha Dawn (Lerner Publishing Group – Carolrhoda Lab)
After the Fire by Will Hill (Sourcebooks – Sourcebooks Fire)
A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma (Algonquin Young Readers)
Sadie by Courtney Summers (Wednesday Books)

“The Box” - Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Teleplay by Luke Del Tredici (NBC/Universal TV)
“Season 2, Episode 1” – Jack Irish, Teleplay by Andrew Knight (Acorn TV)
“Episode 1” – Mystery Road, Teleplay by Michaeley O’Brien (Acorn TV)
“My Aim is True” – Blue Bloods, Teleplay by Kevin Wade (CBS Eye Productions)
“The One That Holds Everything” – The Romanoffs, Teleplay by Matthew Weiner & Donald Joh (Amazon Prime Video)

“How Does He Die This Time?” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Nancy Novick (Dell Magazines)

A Death of No Importance by Mariah Fredericks (Minotaur Books)
A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman (Kensington Publishing)
Bone on Bone by Julia Keller (Minotaur Books)
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey (Soho Press – Soho Crime)
A Borrowing of Bones by Paula Munier (Minotaur Books)

Nominees for the 2019 Edgar Allan Poe Awards Announced
Mystery Scene