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Friday, February 22, 2013

Lincoln/s Grave Robbers, written by Steve Sheinkin. Scholastic, 2013. $18.99 ages 10 and up

"The wagon continued to the station. Tyrell walked into the shadows near the door of the rear car, and waited. He checked his watch: a few minutes before nine. He eyed the platform. Five minutes passed. Steel wheels groaned and clanked against the tracks as the train slowly started rolling. Tyrell must have felt a flash of panic - had Swegles been wrong?"

As with Bomb, this book captured my attention from page one and hauled me through it in no time. Steve Sheinkin is one fantastic writer. He took me back in history and taught me a great deal about money, both real and counterfeit. Just as I didn't know that I wanted to know more about the physics that allowed for the development of the atomic bomb, I had no idea that I would get caught up in a story of "coney men", of "shovers" and of a "roper", never mind body-snatching. What a ghoulish idea!

I was totally intrigued by Mr. Sheinkin's storytelling prowess: how he made this informative book about an attempt to steal Abraham Lincoln's body for ransom such a page-turner! Each of his characters comes alive as we learn the parts that they played in the foiled plot. Two that stand out for me are John Carroll Power, the custodian of the Lincoln grave and monument in Springfield, for his upstanding loyalty to the site and its contents, and Lewis C. Swegles, a roper, for his 'snitching' which allowed the Secret Service to stop the perpetrators in their tracks. 

If you have ever wondered about counterfeit money, you get a little history lesson on it right here. You will meet real people from the past and be witness to the events that led them to consider such a dastardly deed, and how the lawmen who tracked them brought them to justice. Fascinating, to say the least!

Why counterfeit money? Why Lincoln's corpse? These are questions that children and adults who begin the book will be asking themselves. Steve Sheinkin is more than capable of gathering the pieces together and creating an adventure story that begins in Chicago with a group of 'coney' men who want to get their leader out of jail. Why not hold Lincoln's body for ransom? It's also a bit gruesome to know that grave robbing was not all that unusual at the time.

Archival photographs, a table of contents, a cast of characters, a useful glossary of phrases and a list of source notes reminds us that this is nonfiction storytelling and keeps us clearly in touch with the quick paced action of a moment in history. It certainly piques my interest to know more about counterfeiting, about grave robbing and encourages an interest in well-written detective stories. Isn't that what the best books do for their readers?

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